Two Maryland parents are currently under investigation for allowing their children (age 10 and 6) to play in a local park unsupervised.
The parents, Danielle and Alexander Meitiv, are followers of the “free-range parenting” philosophy, which, being the opposite of “helicopter” parenting, meant that they allowed their children to walk around their neighborhood without parental supervision. The children were on their way home from the park when they were stopped by a policeman who asked if they were ok. The children responded, telling the policemen that their parents did in fact know where they were, and then handed over a card which read, “We are not lost. We are free-range kids.”
However, that philosophy caused the couple, both of whom are scientists with advanced degrees, to fall under the watchful eye of Child Protective Services for neglect under a Maryland law saying that children under 8 cannot “be locked or confined in a dwelling, building, enclosure, or motor vehicle while the person in charge is absent.” CPS reportedly threatened to remove the children from the house unless the parents agreed to not leave the children alone until the case was solved.
“We refuse to deprive our children of critical opportunities to develop responsibility and independence, and have no intention of fundamentally changing our parenting to accommodate this kind of paranoia and bullying,” Danielle Meitiv wrote.
According to the data, somewhere around 100 “stereotypical” children are abducted by strangers each year. However, a blogger from Harvard Law estimates that in order to be abducted in this manner, a child would have to sit alone in a parking lot for an average of 26,000 years.
In addition, no data exists that suggests parental supervision would prevent this type of kidnapping from occurring, or suggests that unsupervised children are more likely to be kidnapped than supervised children.
Constant supervision has also been shown to have a direct influence on a child’s ability to play in a creative, free-form way. The Torrance Test of Creative Thinking (TTCT) is a number of tests that look at how well a child or adult can interpret an idea. The test scores, directly correlated to success, have been on a steady decline since the 1980’s.
The issue with this case is what entails “endangerment” of a child. For the Meitiv family, it is the presence of “creeps,” according to a social worker with Child Protective Services.
For the Washington, DC area, one of the definitions of neglect is a child “who is without proper parental care or control, subsistence, education as required by law, or other care or control necessary for his or her physical, mental, or emotional health.”
“Proper parental care and control” has proven especially difficult to define. The underlying question concerns whether the child is placed in immediate danger due to a lack of parental supervision.
Virginia and DC do not specify an age range where a child must be supervised, while Maryland does, writes Judith Sandalow for The Washington Post.