Ran across this article today, Mom Jailed Because She Let Her 9 Year Old Daughter Play in the Park Unsupervised.
For most of the summer, Debra Harrell’s daughter hung out at the McDonalds’s where her mother works, playing on the family laptop. Unfortunately, someone broke into their home and stole the laptop. The daughter asked if she could go to the park instead. The park is very popular and always crowded with kids and parents. It’s about 1.5 miles from the McDonalds. The mother provided the girl with a cell phone and the girl would come back to the McDonalds for lunch. Some parent at the park asked the girl where her mom was. When the girl said, at work, the prude called the police. Now girl’s poor mother is in prison and the girl herself is in the clutches of child services.
The tyranny of the Bush/Obama surveillance state is bad enough, but this local gov’t paternalism might be worse. Not only is this poor woman in jail for no reason, but now all the parents in the neighborhood have likely been intimidated into further restricting their own children’s freedom. Check on the reactions of other folks in the park to this “news” report. It’s a prime example of sentiment over fact.
As far as we know from the news report, the girl was not in any kind of distress. She wasn’t being attacked or snatched. She was not scared or traumatized about being left alone. Her mother, who knows the child better than anyone else, determined that her daughter was capable of crossing whatever streets lay between the restaurant and the park. Presumably, she gave the daughter some instructions about what to do.
I walked to school alone when I was 5. “Well, times have changed,” people will say. But what does that mean? WHAT has changed? Crime has gone down since the mid 1970s. Child kidnappings have always been rare, less than 200 per year. They certainly aren’t higher now than when I was a kid. Are kids less competent now than they were 30 years ago? I certainly wasn’t anything special when I was 5. I wasn’t more mature or wiser than any other 5 year old. Yet I made it to school and back all year as a kindergartener. I didn’t live in some isolated country town either, but a suburb adjacent to Cleveland.
Two things come to mind when I read this news. The first is, we should be very reluctant to second guess a parent’s decision about their child, especially if that second guessing goes as far as getting child services involved. Short of outright abuse or neglect, it’s not our business. Clearly, letting a 3 year old alone at a park is neglect. A 9 year old though? Whatever other parents might think about doing such a thing, it’s not CLEARLY neglect. So let the mother decide. Asking the daughter where her mother was is fine. Even questioning the kid a bit more, to make sure she was alright (does your mom know you’re here, are you OK being here alone, etc.). But calling the cops? Too much. And, as I noted above, hearing about parents getting arrested for exercising their discretion intimidates other parents. When I let my own kids go to the park alone, I don’t fear that they’re going to be snatched. I worry that some prude is going to call the cops on them for being alone.
Secondly, are we deliberately trying to curb children’s freedom? How are they going to grow up to be strong and independent if we don’t even let them out of our sight for a decade? It’s only a walk to the park. Heck, forget about growing up. Don’t they deserve some freedom now, as children? Must their every move be monitored? I loved the feeling of independence I got biking around town alone. Today’s kids deserve that too. Do parents nowadays really think kids are so incompetent they can’t handle being on their own for a few hours?
I’ve ranted on enough for now. Time to get some chores done. And make sure the 3 year old hasn’t destroyed the basement. She’s NOT ready for too much time on her own. 🙂