Kim Hudson: Weighing ‘free range’ vs. responsible parenting

A recent case against a Montgomery County family spotlights the question of what responsible parenting really means.

Are you familiar with the case? On a Saturday afternoon in December the Meitiv family allowed their 10-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter to walk about a mile from their home to play at a neighborhood park. The children were picked up by police after someone called and reported the children were walking alone.

The children had been given permission by their father to go to the park and they were on their way home.

After a two-month investigation by Montgomery County Child Protective Services, a ruling of unsubstantiated child abuse was given to the parents. This finding means a file will be kept open on the family for at least five years and leaves the question of what happens if the children are found walking  alone again unanswered.

What do you think?

This case sparked major controversy. Headlines of “free range” vs. responsible parenting filled social media outlets and local news. Discussions arose regarding how safe children really are and if the authorities stepped out of line.

The Meitivs explained that they believe their children should be given the ability to make their own choices to foster independence and self reliance. They have gradually granted their children the freedom to walk and play in nearby areas alone and would not have allowed this outing if they felt their kids could not handle it.

So when did parents lose the ability to determine what is in their child’s best interest? Obviously there are behaviors and situations that constitute child abuse and/or neglect. Is allowing your child some independence one of them?

Have we truly become a society that thinks you can’t let your kids out of your sight for one second for fear something will happen to them?

And is it not good enough that two otherwise upstanding parents made the determination that their children were mature and responsible enough to go to the park alone?

While I understand the concerns of neighbors and law enforcement I can’t help but think back to a simpler time when kids roamed free all day long, with no cell phones and no parental supervision and they didn’t return home until dinner time.

The same fears were certainly present then but our attitudes were much different.

While I don’t know that I would have allowed my kids the same freedom at the ages of 10 and 6, that is really beside the point.

If I feel it isn’t safe for my child to walk to the bus stop by himself, does that mean it isn’t safe for all children? Maybe you think a 9-year-old shouldn’t be allowed to cook by herself but your neighbor’s daughter does almost every day. Who is right and who is wrong?

I think this case certainly opens up some good discussion points on our current thoughts and attitudes. Should we be fearful to let our children walk or play without supervision? Who should determine when it is safe and when it is not?

And are we looking at the impact our decisions are having on the next generation?

Contact Kim Hudson at tkhudson@comcast.net.

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