Alt-Parenting: Hey! Busybody! Leave Those Kids Alone

freeAside from the snow and bitter cold, the news seems riddled with reports of parents being investigated for leaving their kids alone in cars or letting them walk to the park by themselves. One of my favorite blogs, Free Range Kids, has been talking quite a bit about the topic and debating the validity and worth of these investigations.

Most recently, NPR weighed in on the subject. At the risk of stereotyping myself as the quintessential 40-something, educated, middle-class woman, I will publicly declare that I adore NPR. It’s my default station in the car, which helps me avoid explaining to my children why we take off our clothes and get on our backs if we want to scream (thanks for nothing, Usher). I was looking forward to a fair debate on the subject. Instead the piece left me feeling like a pimply teenaged boy on prom night – frustrated and wanting more (ok, I just wanted to hear both sides, but you get the idea).

It started out just fine — a summary of all those neglectful parents who left their children to fend for themselves on our oh-so-dangerous suburban streets and parking lots. First up: the Meitivs. They’re a couple from Maryland who let their 10- and 6-year-old kids walk to the park alone and are now being investigated for neglect. It’s hard for me to even type those words, the statement is so ridiculous, but it’s a sad reality for that family who is now undergoing a full-on investigation, including home visits and interviews with the child’s principal. What a fine use of resources!

Then came Christina James-Brown, President and CEO of the Child Welfare League of America. In response to the free-range movement’s objections to these investigations as unwarranted, she claims that things just ain’t how they used to be. She’s certainly not talking about crime rates, since it’s clear that crime has actually gone down since when I was a kid. Instead she’s talking about the quality of our neighbors. Back in the day, we looked out for one another’s kids and reported back if we saw something we didn’t like, making our kids feel more accountable. Ms. James-Brown, however, had a personal experience that led her to believe such prying is no longer tolerated. When trying to tell a neighbor that his daughter was playing chicken in the street, that neighbor reprimanded her, harshly, and told to mind her own business. She concluded that parents in today’s world don’t want to hear from neighboring busybodies. I guess that leaves the authorities to fulfill that role.

I’m not sure why the response of one douchebag dad gets the rest of us lumped into the category of parents who don’t want others watching out for our kids. I think most of us would appreciate knowing that our child was dodging cars in the street. What we don’t want to hear about is the minutia. My kid didn’t use his manners, my kid said “stupid,” my kid was left alone in the car while I ran into the dry-cleaners, separated only by a large glass window and a mere 10 feet. These are the intrusions most of us would like to avoid. Or maybe not. Who am I to speak for you?

The point is, everyone’s living situation is unique just like our kids are unique, and we, as parents, adapt to those idiosyncrasies. We consider the situation, use our best judgment, and then decide whether our 10-year-old can safely walk his 6-year-old sister to the park. That’s our job.

I don’t mean to dis Christina James-Brown. She obviously cares about children and is well-meaning. I just find it so insulting that as parents our judgment about what our kids can handle has been completely tossed aside, and replaced with the judgment of over-worked caseworkers who’ve never met our kids and don’t know a thing about our family situation. It makes me feel sad for the kids of today. They’re indirectly being told that they’re incapable and untrustworthy, despite the hyper-focus on developing their self-esteem.

I think it’s time for society to create some balance here. If you see a reasonably aged child alone in a car or park and it’s not 100 degrees outside, can you let it go? If you absolutely need to assess the situation, do so in a reasonable manner by asking yourself these questions: Does the child seem well-cared for or look like a hot mess? Does she seem lost or is she here with her parents’ blessing? Is she upset or enjoying herself? Are you in a safe neighborhood or is the American Association of Pedophiles holding its annual meeting across the street? If everything looks ok, don’t call the cops. Get your busybody ass home and be grateful that somewhere, a parent trusted a child; a parent made a thoughtful decision and opted for giving a kid independence. It might just save the next generation.

5 responses to “Alt-Parenting: Hey! Busybody! Leave Those Kids Alone”

  1. Deb D'Amario says:

    Damn! You're my hero.

  2. Shelly Stow says:

    Oooh, Kim; I was with you all the way–Lenore is one of my heroes also–until you threw in the "American Association of Pedophiles" bit. As one who advocates for legislation and practices that are based on facts and empirical evidence and that support the successful rehabilitation and reintegration of former sex offenders into a law abiding society, I often get bent out of shape when terms are thrown around in such a way as feeds into myth and misunderstanding. I won't go into the entire clinical definition of pedophilia here or the fact that only the smallest percentage of those who commit sexual crime are indeed pedophiles, but the fact is that the general public sees "pedophiles" as synonymous with "sex offender", i.e. anyone on the registry, and that is a perception that needs to be discouraged. Thanks, and, other than that, bitchin' article.

  3. Shelly…thank you so much for your extremely respectful comment. So often when people disagree online, I'm disheartened that the comments are often nasty and judgmental. i appreciate that you took the time to comment so thoughtfully. Just so you know, however, my comment was meant to be a joke…sort of highlighting the ridiculousness that our kids are safe as, as far as I know there is no such association…and if there were, i'm sure their meetings wouldn't be public. :). Other than that i get your comment completely. As a former prosecutor, I know that sex offender registries have broad reach and being on that registry does not necessarily make you dangerous, especially to children.

  4. Shelly Stow says:

    Kim Fogarty Kinzie Oh, do I hear you about the nasty responses. I fully understand and understood your joking satire. I fully admit to being super-sensitive to the subject matter. Your article was delightful. I have just been reading some things by clinically diagnosed pedophiles–and some who know they are but are afraid to reveal it even to a therapist–who have never touched a child inappropriately and are determined not to do so; support groups have been formed, and when you said "American Assoc. of Pedophiles" and then placed them in proximity of children playing in a park, implying the children would be safe unless they were meeting across the street, I probably over-reacted. Thanks for your response.

  5. Shelly Stow, thanks for taking a second look. There's nothing wrong with being sensitive regarding a topic that's near and dear to your heart. Here's to staying respectful online!!! 🙂

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