Perspectives: Free-range parenting isn’t a crime

OPINION – It was my son David who introduced me to the concept of free-range parenting. Of course, the introduction was also entirely against my wishes.

From the moment he learned to walk, our David was an intensely independent toddler. Because of his independent streak, we had learned to keep our doors dead-bolted in order to prevent him from wandering off.

One night, as I was on the phone with my mother, David was following me from room to room whining about something. Twice I took him to his older siblings and asked them to keep him occupied while I finished my phone call.

But David kept coming to find me and was getting louder and more insistent by the minute. In exasperation, I shut myself in our downstairs bathroom and locked the door. After a few minutes, I heard him wander back up the stairs and I ended the phone conversation.

When I went to find David after hanging up the phone, he was nowhere to be found.

His sisters and his brother were all sitting in our home theater watching a movie, but none of them knew where their little brother had gone. I was starting to get concerned.

As I made another pass through our home looking for him, I noticed that the deadbolt on our back door was not latched although the door was shut. I grabbed a flashlight and headed out the door calling his name.

I was starting to feel a bit of panic as I ran down our street looking for my wayward son. The closer I got to busy Valley View Drive the more concerned I became. Near the entrance to our cul-de-sac, I found three skateboarders standing there trying to figure out what to make of the 17-month-old runaway who was wearing only a diaper.

I felt like the worst parent in the world.

Embarrassed and overwhelmed with relief, I thanked the young men for watching out for him and scooped him up to take him home. I never thought I’d count myself fortunate to be lectured by a group of stoned skaters about my parenting skills.

This experience could have ended badly for our family, though not for the tragic outcome some might imagine. Had David been discovered by a busybody preoccupied with attaching criminal intent to my son’s adventure, my family could have been dragged into a legal nightmare.

Parents are facing legal repercussions for similar incidents with increasing frequency across the nation.

Like, for example, the family in Maryland that found themselves under scrutiny from their state’s Child Protective Services for something far more benign: Alexander and Danielle Meitiv were placed under investigation for allowing their two children, ages 6 and 10, to walk home from a nearby park.

A passing observer noticed the two children walking without adult supervision and notified police when the children were just half a block from their home. The children were taken home by the police and a half dozen police vehicles descended on their home and CPS began an investigation into child neglect.

The Montgomery County Department of Child Protective Services eventually closed the case by informing the Meitivs that they had been found responsible for “unsubstantiated child neglect.” This means that the agency had what it considers credible reports of neglect that were not supported by sufficient evidence to pursue the case further.

The Meitiv family is unapologetic for their free-range parenting approach. They are trying to raise children who are capable of accepting responsibility for their actions with minimal bureaucratic meddling and without having to seek government permission for every move they make.

Equating this parenting style with reckless endangerment makes a mockery of those children who are in obvious and indisputable danger. It also cultivates an environment where the judgment of parents as to what their children are ready for is being supplanted by the dictates of the state.

This presumption that imperfect parents cannot be trusted to do the right thing by their children is being used to reduce all of us to the status of children and to make the state our mommy. This is not compatible with the concept of self government.

The greater the role we allow government to take in how our children are raised, the less of a role we will have as parents.

Today’s helicopter parent who obsessively hovers over his or her child, nagging and directing their every move, is not preparing their child for the challenges of life.

The real world needs decision-makers who can think and act independently. That kind of responsibility and accountability should originate with parents, not from bureaucrats.

Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and opinion writer in Southern Utah. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

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Email: bryanh@stgnews.com

Twitter: @youcancallmebry

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.

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14 Comments

  • hb bev March 9, 2015 at 12:35 pm

    I Free Ranged all my kids and no one got hurt. Was I lucky? Maybe. Was I neglectful? Not according to me. Let’s let folks raise their kids they way they were raised because they know what works and what doesn’t.

  • BIG GUY March 9, 2015 at 1:25 pm

    While I am in general agreement with Bryan’s point of view, this is a difficult topic with lots of gray areas. We’ve all read stories like the one Bryan describes in Maryland and most would agree the authorities overreacted. Then again, we’ve all read of tragedies where an innocent child was seriously harmed or even killed when it appeared that authorities ignored obvious warning signs. One size won’t fit all in this area.

    Government regulators, inspectors, officers and bureaucrats of all stripes are people, almost all of whom are trying to do the “right thing” given the laws and regulations under which they operate. But as imperfect people, they make honest mistakes and in some cases, “over achieve” by interpreting and implementing the law to suit their point of view.

    If we believe we are treated unfairly or rudely by a company or business person, we can choose to go elsewhere next time. If the problem is serious enough, we can report the problem to government authorities. But Bryan and I are concerned that if government IS the problem, we have no alternate provider. The IRS and DMV come to mind and a number of commentators on this site have complained about police. When well meaning but misguided folks use government to force their views of how the world should be on the rest of us, we have nowhere to turn.

    The solution? In a quote attributed to Thomas Jefferson, “That government is best which governs least.” When in doubt about giving government responsibility in a gray area, choose personal freedom over government control. Am I a libertarian? Absolutely not, but I see too many situations where personal freedom is restricted in the name of “government knows best” in areas where there is great uncertainty about how to do the right thing. Today’s most egregious example: Obamacare where Nancy Pelosi knows the insurance coverage I need and by gosh, she’s forced me to buy it. Furthermore, she’s decided that healthy young people will subsidize older, less healthy people. No personal freedom; one size fits all.

    Will people make poor choices, insurance or otherwise, if left to their own devices? Yes, of course. But better that than state control in many aspects of life.

  • anybody home March 9, 2015 at 1:54 pm

    A 17-month baby out alone at night is not quite the same as kids 6 and 10 walking to the park. Where in the world was this child’s mother? You’re comparing apples and oranges to make a point, Bryan. While I agree there’s too much helicoptering going on, a toddler under two needs a little more attention than this kiddo was getting. Did it occur to you to just hang up and call Mom back? Surely your baby deserves your attention more than Mom. Okay, well, maybe not in your family.

    • Mesaizacd March 10, 2015 at 3:29 am

      Oh shut up with your self righteous garbage

  • voice of reason March 9, 2015 at 3:45 pm

    Brian, by your own description and account, the incident with your 17 month old did meet the state standards for “Child Neglect”. See Utah Leg. Code 78A Chpt 6., Sec 105.27 (27) (a) “Neglect” means action or inaction causing:
    (ii) lack of proper parental care of a child by reason of the fault or habits of the parent, guardian, or custodian; ” Was it a mistake? Sure. Did it ever happen again? I hope not. But the law is clear, YOU were negligent in your care for your child. Child neglect can be a one-time occurrence (Like you or the lady in Hurricane who “forgot” her baby. I think and will forever feel that the prosecuting attorney made a terrible choice in not charging her with “child neglect”. Only in Hurricane are you allowed to cook babies) but it still is a criminal violation. You are so bent on seeing the world your way that you fail to recognize the criminal mistakes you’ve made. Oh, and one more thing, nice way to judge people based on appearances. “Three stoned skateboarders?” Stop trying to sensationalize the story. You are not good at it.

    • Mesaizacd March 10, 2015 at 3:31 am

      Oh blah blah blah blah

      • voice of reason March 10, 2015 at 12:10 pm

        real classy Mr Hyde.

  • Aaron March 9, 2015 at 8:45 pm

    I have a few problems with the attitude some people are having concerning this issue and also with this article. To summarize I feel “free-range parenting” 1. can be a great excuse to cop-out of quality time with children, 2. it only takes one act of neglect for tragedy to strike, and 3. CPS is out to protect children and teach families, not take them away: removing children from a home is likely their last resort.

    1. I agree with the point of view of being over-protective, but it’s important to not over-estimate the intelligence of a child. I grew up playing outside all the time, but not places like the street or outside of my property without supervision until I was around eight or nine. I think my parents finally allowed me to play without supervision in potentially dangerous areas because they saw me doing things to protect myself on a consistent basis. IF YOU CAN’T SEE THAT OR DON’T KNOW IF YOUR CHILD IS CAPABLE OF SUCH RESPONSIBILITY BEFORE ALLOWING THEM TO BE ON THEIR OWN, YOU’RE BEING NEGLECTFUL. If it feels like parents are “meddling, nagging, or directing their every move” with a young child it’s probably because they aren’t parenting right. I had nothing but fun with my parents when they accompanied me places. Not once did I feel like it was inconvenient that I couldn’t play out in the street, at the park, etc. without someone’s supervision. I’m sorry, but these statements, or the attitude that accompanies it, can be a pretty useful cop out when it comes to spending needed quality time with a child while ensuring their safety at the same time.

    2. Not properly assessing a child’s ability to be safe only adds to the dangers of what could be a tragic one time occurrence. Gong back to a child’s intelligence, for example, they generally don’t tend to have the sense to look as often as an adult does when crossing the street. If they can’t do something as simple as that very consistently they shouldn’t be walking alone or without proper, responsible supervision. Now everyone has those moments when they’re distracted and forget to look when crossing the street, but that is exponentially multiplied in the case of an irresponsible child who only looks 50% of the time, and simply compounds the chances of them being seriously or fatally injured.

    3. If someone reports an act to Child Protective Services and they deem it “investigation” worthy it’s probably because it is something that is dangerous to the child that they want to fix. It’s wrong to assume they’re out to get our children. They only want that to happen as a last resort, and only resort to that in situations that are necessary. They simply want the child to be safe. I would hope friends, neighbors, bystanders would be willing to talk to me first, but seeing some of the unruly attitudes I see here I can see why people resort to calling CPS. If it ever happened that they investigated me for some reason I would try to learn from them so that I can be a better parent. What would be considered dangerous towards a child are unruly parents thinking that their way of thinking is right in light of a heavily funded and research based association out to simply keep children safe.

  • Mean Momma March 10, 2015 at 9:47 am

    How do you know the skaters were stoned? Did you witness them doing drugs? Did you drug test them? Did they tell you they were stoned? I doubt any of these things happened, therefore you are making a judgmental statement only to make your story sound more interesting. Shame on you for accusing those young men of being stoned when they were the only ones watching your child. What a bunch of bull!

  • Sapphire March 10, 2015 at 10:00 am

    Every person thinks and acts independently. Some learn there are rules and limitations to their behavior, and others do whatever they please no matter who it hurts. Anyway, I don’t know anyone who hasn’t made a stupid choice while raising their children. This is presented as a stupid choice. The mother didn’t know what was wrong and didn’t care to find out, the other children weren’t responsible enough to watch him when she told them to, and the baby wasn’t old enough to be responsible for himself. Just glad that nothing horrible happened to the child. Free-range parenting? What are we poultry?

  • sagemoon March 10, 2015 at 12:53 pm

    I understand the point you are trying to make here, Bryan, and I agree with you. My parents were way too protective and I was ill prepared to move out into the real world when I was 20 years old.

  • ladybugavenger March 10, 2015 at 3:26 pm

    No one is prepared to go into the “real world” at 20. Thats why we look back and go dang, I was stupid and did stupid things 😉 that is, if youre not in denial.

    • ladybugavenger March 10, 2015 at 8:40 pm

      Anyway the “real world” is fake with fake backstabbing backstabbers

  • ladybugavenger March 10, 2015 at 10:57 pm

    “Then the time come for you to be your own man and take on the world, and you did. But somewhere along the line, you changed. You stopped being you. You let people stick a finger in your face and tell you you’re no good. And when things got hard, you started looking for something to blame, like a big shadow. Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get it and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now if you know what you’re worth then go out and get what you’re worth. But ya gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody! Cowards do that and that ain’t you! You’re better than that! But until you start believing in yourself, ya ain’t gonna have a life.” -Rocky Balboa

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