Sunday, June 8, 2014

Free-Range in a Helicopter World

I've become a fan of the Mom & Dad are Fighting podcast, and a recent debate on the show has me torn.

Over the last two episodes, they've dissected one host's urge to intervene after spotting two elementary-aged girls alone in a car on a hot day. He observed them for about ten minutes, uncertain of what to do. Ultimately, he left a water bottle for them on the car, shortly before a woman -presumably their mother- returned to it.

The host reached out to listeners, asking for advice on how they think he should have reacted. The vast majority were incensed he didn't call 911, and a child protective services employee called in to say contacting the police would indeed have been appropriate.

I don't know what I would have told him to do.

I know that on a hot day, cars can reach dangerous internal temperatures in as little as two minutes. Those girls were alone for ten minutes at least, and could have suffered heat stroke or worse. So in that specific situation, intervention seems appropriate.

However, I'm hyper-conscious of comparable stories where parents have been jailed  for letting a child sit alone in a car or go to a park unsupervised, and even one where the parents were threatened with loss of custody for letting a child walk alone but observed for a short distance. I walked unaccompanied the six blocks to elementary school every day, but that was in the late seventies. Would such an act be tolerated now?

What if a call to 911 led to that woman losing her children?

I want to be a free-range parent. I want to raise a brave, sensible, independent child who makes good decisions and takes smart risks.

I'm not sure the rest of the world will let me.

06/11/14 UPDATE: Since this post, the Mom & Dad are Fighting host published an article unpacking his dilemma. He discovered and linked to many of the same stories I did, and shares my discomfort with the nearly universal recommendation that he should have involved the police:
"It’s difficult to delineate on the fly between a situation in which a child is actually in peril and one that simply makes me uncomfortable. But I can’t, as a rule, agree with the many listeners who told me that the only right move is to call the cops." 
06/16/14 UPDATE: See also Stop Helicopter-Parenting Other People's Kids (though I think his points about spanking are ignorant bullshit):
"It's an odd way to 'help' a child who is unsupervised for five minutes to potentially inflict years of stress, hours of court appearances, and potential legal fees and fines on their parents. Children who experience discreet instances of suboptimal parenting aren't always aided by threatening their parents with stiff, potentially family-jeopardizing legal penalties. The risk of five or even 10 minutes in a temperate, locked car while mom shops is still a lot better than years in group homes and foster systems."
07/16/14 UPDATE (law enforcement, please stop doing things that require updating this post): See also also Parents Are Now Getting Arrested for Letting Their Kids Go to the Park Alone, about a mom with no sitter who had her nine-year-old play in a nearby park while she worked. I second the author when she says:
"How can I appropriately parent my child when doing something that seems relatively safe, if out of fashion, can get you arrested?"

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