Free Range Versus Helicopter Parenting: Washington Case Could Define Limits For Parents Wanting Kids To Push Life’s Limits

220px-LAPD_Bell_206_Jetranger250px-Free_Range_Hens_-_geograph.org.uk_-_342791There is an interesting case out of Washington that pits the “free range children” movement against child welfare authorities. Danielle and Alexander Meitiv believe in the new movement to reject “helicopter” parenting and allow child to push limit in venturing out on their own and testing self-reliance. For many parents, the specific controversy would seem much too do about nothing” a one-mile walk home for the two Meitiv kids aged 10 and 6. However, the kids were stopped halfway by police who reported the parents to child welfare, which continues to investigate them for endangering their children.


Danielle is a climate-science consultant and Alexander is a physicist at the National Institutes of Health. They say that they have spent a lot of time looking at the issue and believe firmly in the free range concept.

When the police brought their children home, Alexander was given a lecture on proper parenting and then he was visited by child welfare investigators. He was told that he had to sign a pledge not to leave the children alone until the following Monday. When he balked that this was intruding upon his decisions as a father, he was told that the children would be removed from the home unless he signed.

The case turns on a standard that is often honored in the breach. The law states that children may not be left unattended and that children younger than 8 must be left with a reliable person who is at least 13 years old. That applies to dwellings, enclosures and vehicles. Of course, many children play unattended in homes or yards or neighborhoods. However, the law effectively says that these children cannot walk home a mile alone.

For the record, I am closer to a helicopter than a free range parents. I am notoriously risk-adverse with my kids. I would not want them walking in a major city alone for a mile, particularly due to var accidents which remain the leading cause of non-illness deaths. However, this result would presumably be the same if the kids were allowed to walk a quarter of a mile or a couple blocks. I see such kids walking alone often in Virginia. Does it matter that this law appears rarely enforced? At what point does this intrude on parenting decisions?

What do you think?

Source: Washington Post

68 thoughts on “Free Range Versus Helicopter Parenting: Washington Case Could Define Limits For Parents Wanting Kids To Push Life’s Limits”

  1. Clarification: “Bobble Heads” refers to those strangers who saunter through a neighborhood with their heads swiveling left and right looking up every driveway and on to every porch. Regular local residents do not do that as they walk along.

    These guys are “shopping” and making lists…and likely to return for your lawn mower or snow blower if they notice that you leave it outside…or worse things that might occur to their little minds.

  2. Gigi De La Paz ….our cities have changed today. Where I grew up, Detroit, was a large city, but relatively safe and integrated more or less. Today it is possibly the most segregated city in the country and until recently the race hustlers ran the show…and it became unsafe even for the black families living there, perhaps most of all in fact. When I drive across Warren Avenue, originally to reach my office in the federal building, now to reach my daughter’s place in the city core, through a ghetto zone I still see black fathers and/or mothers escorting their kids to school in their own neighborhoods. I really don’t know what instigated the change…but it did happen and it is now unsafe for little kids to walk to school alone. Urban centers are not rural territory where neighbors still look out for each other. My neighborhood now is more observant of kids’ welfare than most, probably as much for ethnic reasons as anything else. When “bobble heads” stroll though from outside the neighborhood, I assure you all eyes are on them. That said, it is still a sad way to live.

    I’m sure Al Sharpton will solve this soon, due to his interest in tranquility among peoples. //sarc\\

  3. Reisling–I like that teacher. I don’t think it should be mandatory, but the idea behind having the children walk to school is a good one. As long as the neighborhood is safe, their is no reason why we can’t let our children experience life.

  4. Location, location, location. It depends on where these children live. In a city known for crime is one thing, a small peace abiding town or countryside is quite different.
    In a country that is supposed to be free, we must step back and allow parents to raise their children as they see fit, unless there are circumstances that endanger the children or those around them.

    1. What depends on what? Violence being okay to mete out as anger? It’s okay in a small village? lolololol There should be the same rules for violence for everyone – no exceptions – small village – no wonder there are terrorists that feel entitled.

  5. I bet there were a fair number of teachers in one lounge that complained about lousy history teachers.

    1. Wadewilliams – we did not have a lounge but I complained about a lousy history teacher all the time.

  6. Interesting perspective Ari. It kind of seems these days like the presence of adults are more of the problem in many ways. Seems like kids would kind of work things out and make the best of situations. Or maybe that was the case when there was a more common cultural connection? We only had one black kid in my neighborhood, we had a first generation heathen Irish kid, and we had the German kid–Wolfgang, even, who we assumed (still living the propaganda from the war into the 70s) was going to kill us for fun in some hideous scientific way, but this group just made up “all the kids” in the end. That’s all. We played together, got in trouble together, sometimes we got mad and fought each other, but there wasn’t the “categorization” that exists today. Maybe our entire society today is the result of generations of misguided social engineering–that continues to this day even more misguided. ??

    I know Jim22, but geez–I’ll bet your other activities don’t come with such a built in spectator factor!

  7. Riesling, I have no doubt that’s true about German’s feelings toward Nazism. US teachers are more concerned about their union benefits than anything else. Sit in any teacher’s lounge and that’s the #1 topic, followed closely by complaining about students and parents.

  8. Nick! 99% of Germans today are glad that the Nazis lost WWII…..it´s the year 2015. Anyway, I happen to think it´s a good thing that teachers have authority here. By the way, our French exchange student said the teachers here are waaaay too nice and don´t have enough authority!..

  9. slohrss29, Speaking as a first responder, if what you stated is the litmus test for getting rid of freedoms, than I can give you a list of activities that kill people in gruesome ways way more frequently.

  10. Jim22….you just rang another memory out of my skull. How about when kids would jump on to the outsides of freight trains to hitch a ride….usually after they pulled out of a siding or were slowed by a tight curve? Those were the days of large steam locomotives and thus hugely attractive to boys where I lived. Even back then I recall some being severely injured or killed doing so if they slipped. I confess I did it a few times just for the experience (adventure?) … guess I wasn’t a very bright kid. The thought now horrifies me.

    Then, in winter, when streets were ice & snow covered, kids grabbing bumpers of cars or trucks as they turned a corner for a skid ride on your shoes or boots down a block or two…in the middle of a city? How in Hades did we survive?

    That I recall vividly as high level “fun” … everyone I knew did it. Doing that is something we never ever told our parents about, even if we went too far away and had to explain why we came home so late, due to walking back sometimes. Fibbing was (and is?) an adolescent art form I guess.

    slohrss29 … heh heh. 🙂 Living in a Arab Muslim neighborhood and attending a primarily Mexican parish for services,..I am fairly sure many of those around me are like your bears. Now real wholly wild bears, like in the rocky mountain west, I tend to avoid by prudently keeping my distance. In wilderness areas I suppose I’d be the one needing special identity because the rules weren’t made by man, but by the critters. The “look” on a coyotes face when chasing a vole or mouse in the wild when they literally dive right between your legs is priceless. Just don’t feed coyotes or wolves or they can be even more audacious.

  11. Have to disagree with you on that one Jim22–not out of freedom, but out of consideration for EMT. While I was a teenager, we happened along a sad scene where a kid fell out the back of a pickup in nearby WV. Some poor EMT had the responsibility to scrape the pile of skull and brain out of the way. After that day, I always thought helmets for motorcyclists and bicyclists to be mandatory. Or–should such a situation happen, the next of kin should be called to clean up the mess. A different way of looking at it.
    Oh–to Tyger above… I actually have bears in my backyard in the summer. But this is Maryland, and I believe they have a social security number and are on the state payroll, so you can’t mess with them too much.

  12. Darren, Or how about the days of just jumping into the back of a pickup truck for a ride?

  13. The reason for all the nanny state interference is that, every so often, there occurs an egregious incident of death, rape or mayhem to a kid. Now, if we just agreed that “a few kids can be raped or abducted or killed, so that the rest won’t be bothered,” there would not be any issue.

    FWIW, I am old enough that I was certainly a “free range kid.” My parents hardly ever asked where I had been or what I had been up to. No doubt there were many perverts and dangers in our town, but nobody knew about them.

  14. A thought came to mind.

    About fifteen years ago I was in Istanbul waiting on a local train platform. On these trains was a ledge of a probably a foot or so created on the outside when the doors closed. There were also two vertical handrails on the each side of the doors.

    When the train was about to depart and the doors closed several boys would step onto the ledge, grab the handrails, then ride on the outside of the train when it left the station. It seemed nearly every train that came by until mine did had several boys riding in a like manner. Surely, the train officials knew of this and just let it happen.

    I said to a friend accompanying me: “Now that’s freedom!” We then lamented how if that happened in the US, there would be a big ruckus caused and the train company would get sued by some lawyer.

    That was 15 years ago. Now, CPS might take away the children and the lawyer would be needed to instead get the children back.

    1. Darren – that sounds like fun- I can see it in my minds eye – like a magic carpet ride! 😉

  15. Reading this post and thread only reminds me of just how old I am,. I grew up a “free range” kid, walking or riding my bicycle, with my friends and sometimes alone, all over the city, once I had permission to “cross the street” at about age 7. We also took street cars for two bits if IIRC …it went 8 odd miles in to the city core…a place of wonder to adolescents. There were dime stores on the city outskirts, but the best were “downtown” and I could spend hours in them….trying to figure out how to spend my pittance. I walked to school from kindergarten on through grade school, about 3/4 mile IIRC. It seemed like a much safer time. Today does NOT. Strange behaviors have been more or less “accepted” as conditions to be “treated” not spurned. When my daughter was growing up I can’t even acknowledge (it’s in 4-5 figures for hired off duty cops for surveillance, and intercession if necessary) what I spent to assure her safety and still let her” range” about. I knew she needed the exposure to the real world, but as a parent I had to assure her safety. Simple as that. Today she lives in a loft in the central city core and does so comfortably. That took a bit of adjusting for me to accept, but I did not discourage her … turns out that a large number of 25-40 somethings have done the same thing and the environment is co-supportive. She can walk to work and drives only on weekends….on each weekend we meet to shoot targets at the range I belong to nearly 25 miles from her loft. She kind of gave up TaeKwonDo for Yoga…which is fine by me. At 42 she’s as fit as I ever was in my 20’s…good for her.

    In short, I had a free range childhood without surveillance (it just wasn’t considered a danger back then in the 40’s and 50’s) and gave the same opportunity to my kid, but with surveillance.

  16. I had to put my youngest in daycare because there was 1 hour I could not account for when he was 4 and the others were 6 and 8. I had a visit from the Police with guns and everything. You know what I think already.

  17. Karen S, kids are allowed to work on a farm. In fact, in most states, they can even legally drive on the farm before they would legally be allowed to do so on the roads.

  18. Police have time to go after kids – perhaps there is room to cut police numbers. Children playing outside are enjoying free entertainment – the powers that be don’t want anyone to access free entertainment, only what is paid for and taxed. If children have no public space, then parents are forced to take them everywhere, so all adult venues fill up with kids and there are no child free adult spaces left. Once it is expected that children are entitled to go everywhere the problem arises of badly behaved out of control children that no-one can avoid – where else can they go? Children can annoy adults but what can the adults do about it?

  19. Ah, Karen, it sounds like you might be full of Pooh, and I bearly noticed it. But on a blustery day, you may be able to keep some hunny in your back yard. You just need to live in a more rural area where it’s a little less populated and folks are more likely to let you mind your own business and they theirs there. 🙂

  20. I am so happy that I was a free-range kid. It taught me self-reliance and strategic thinking at an early age. And it was fun! I walked or bicycled to school beginning in kindergarten, carrying books and a sack lunch. Depending on where my parents lived it was 2 or three miles each way. I walked with friends, or rode in cars when it was really cold out.

    I never took a school bus. My parents said the school buses were for the weak and sickly kids. In summer, my mother would give me a sack lunch and tell me to be home by dinner time. All day would be spent bicycling, playing in the woods, pond swimming, shooting BB guns at my friends in the fields, parks and streets. And they were shooting back. If I came home clean, my mother would tell me to get the hell outside and get dirty, because I was a kid, and kids are dirty if they are having fun.

    My dad supplied lumber scraps, saws, hammers, and nails. I’d cobble together steerable carts, and later add a worn out Briggs & Stratton motor from a scrapped lawn mower. I’d roll down the street, dodging traffic. Then I got an old minibike and wore paths going around and around out property.

    In high school I built a motor scooter. Rudimentary, but it got me around until I saved up enough to buy a real one, and then every day was spent riding with my buddies in the 50cc, 25 mph Outlaws gang.

    My parents were poor. Wonderful, loving people, but poor. And I lived an idyllic childhood as good and fun and fascinating as any prince in any story book, probably better. That would not have been if I had helicopter parents.

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