I've gotten a fair amount of email about this awful story. This message in particular stood out to me:
Did you see the story about the "Free Range parents" who were found guilty of child neglect? I know you're a big believer in parents rights and so am I, but I would NEVER let a SIX-YEAR-OLD go to a park ALONE. I think [Child Protective Services] had to do something in this case even if it was unpopular. What do you think of this parenting style? What is YOUR parenting style? I have neighbors who let their kids basically run all over the place unsupervised and it causes problems in the neighborhood and it is unsafe for the children. I think it would be great if you could write something about these trendy parenting tactics and talk some sense into people.
Hi, reader. Thank you for the email. Yes, I have heard about this case. A few notes:
1) What have I ever said or done that would lead you to believe I'd look at a story of a family being persecuted by the government for letting their kids walk to the park -- and come down on the government's side? Parental rights are kind of, like, my thing, aren't they? Haven't I at least established that? Haven't I earned that reputation?
Photo Credit: Shutterstock
Dear Lord. I feel so confused. So dirty.
2) The 6-year-old wasn't walking alone (or even "ALONE"). She was walking with her 10-year-old brother. They were returning home from a park a couple of blocks away. Yes, they were -- GASP -- unsupervised, but they were not alone.
3) The parents most certainly were not found "guilty" of child neglect; they were found "responsible" for "unsubstantiated" child neglect. That means the charges were unproved and unverified, but CPS will keep a file on them anyway for five years. They are in the system now, which means any further unsubstantiated charges could easily lead to them having their children legally kidnapped.
How can someone be "responsible" for that which is "unsubstantiated"?
Well, because this is social services we're talking about. As many parents have discovered, when they set their sights on you, all notions of legality, coherence, and common sense go out the window. The Bill of Rights guarantees you are innocent until proven guilty, but the bureaucrats at CPS, for reasons that have never been properly explained to me or to anyone, are completely unbound by that amendment or any other.
The charges came under a law that says children under eight cannot be "locked in a confined space," such as a dwelling or a car, without the supervision of someone 13 years or older. Apparently, "locked in a confined space" now includes walking outdoors. I suppose, in a sense, we are confined outside because we are still tethered by gravity to the planet Earth, but it kind of feels like maybe we're broadening our definitions just a tad too far. Don't you think?
According to the Meitiv's, the parents who committed this egregious and terrible crime, the harassment and bullying by these corrupt and incompetent bureaucrats began after some busybody called the cops upon noticing two children walking down the sidewalk ("if you see something, say something!"). The police picked up the kids, brought them home, and promptly threatened to shoot the father (because these suburban dads who let their kids walk outside can be pretty dangerous characters). They lectured Pappa Meitiv about the dangers of the world and then passed the case off to the Guardians of Acceptable Parenting Practices at the local CPS.
An official from the agency showed up at the door soon after and forced the man to sign a document pledging that he wouldn't let his children out of his sight ever again. He refused, but the power-drunk tyrant informed him that his kids would be removed from the house if the state is not assured that they will be contained and monitored at all times, much like inmates in a mental asylum, or sting rays at the aquarium. The Dad consented because he had no choice.
You never have a choice with these people. Once social services are called, you have no rights, no recourse, no power at all.
[sharequote align="center"]Once social services are called, you have no rights, no recourse, no power at all.[/sharequote]
Referring back to that obscure ancient scroll known as the Bill of Rights, citizens are allegedly guaranteed freedom from unreasonable search and seizure. This provision evidently has no bearing at all on social services. Your computer and your car are more thoroughly protected from unwarranted confiscation and inspection than your children. Especially if your children go to public schools.
Indeed, CPS did not let these dastardly evil doers off the hook so easy.
They went to the kids' school and interviewed them without parental consent. And then they returned to the house and insisted on inspecting it for other signs of neglect. Maybe they'd find evidence that the children are sometimes allowed to occupy the living room while unaccompanied by adults, or maybe they'd observe the kids jumping on the couch, or cutting construction paper with non-safety scissors, or eating food that hasn't been pre-chewed and regurgitated into their mouths like baby birds. Who knows what sort of travesties they might witness?
Of course, it turns out they found nothing. They could not prove that any neglect took place at all, at any point, ever. But they still get to hold the parents responsible for something they admit never happened.
4) You ask me my parenting style. Well, I can't tell you for sure. I guess I never got the menu at the hospital. That's how it works, right? When your kids are born they give you a list of categorized parenting strategies and let you select one? I don't know, I guess my wife and I must be barbarians because we haven't chosen one particular scheme. Our parenting is like my wardrobe or my dance moves -- no style. We just sort of do what we think is best for our kids.
Is that allowed? Can people do that?
Photo Credit: Shutterstock
As for being a free range parent, well, I certainly believe in teaching your kids to be independent. Now, that doesn't mean we plan to drop them off in a cave in the desert when they're five and let them learn to fend for themselves by eating scorpions and fruit bats. I mean, we probably wouldn't go that far, though I have a few friends who've tried Desert Cave Parenting and they absolutely swear by it. I think, in our case, we want our kids to learn how to function in the world and take care of themselves, so we will slowly introduce new responsibilities and freedoms. Maybe that's "free range." I don't know. I don't care. Why does everything have to be labeled and cataloged? Why does everything have to be a "thing"?
5) I'm not sure there's anything particularly "trendy" about letting your kids walk down the street unleashed. Parents have been doing that since, according to my research, forever. Literally.
When I was a kid I used to leave the house in the morning and spend all day riding my bike around the neighborhood. We went down to the creek to catch tadpoles, rode to the park, played street hockey in an abandoned parking lot a few blocks away. Sometimes we'd go into the woods near my house to this place where litterbugs dumped their garbage. We'd have a blast breaking bottles and throwing rocks at the old TV sets and glass doors people would abandon there. My parents didn't know about that part (sorry you have to find out this way, Mom), and yes, if they did they would have told us to stop. But God forbid kids are left to their own devices and get into a little bit of mischief in the process.
[sharequote align="center"]God forbid kids are left to their own devices and get into a little bit of mischief in the process.[/sharequote]
If "free-range parenting" is simply allowing your kids the freedom to explore and play and experience childhood, then I'd say it's not so much "free-range parenting" as it is "good parenting." That's one of the problems with turning every choice, no matter how obvious and traditional it might be, into its own "type" or "style." It makes it sound like it's some concoction or innovation made up by a parenting advice columnist, when in this case, it's really just a fundamental aspect of being a competent parent.
6) I'm not sure where you get this "it's unsafe for kids to walk alone" idea. Of course, no child and no adult can ever be completely insulated from danger, but these days we're about as insulated as any society has ever been. We are safer now more than ever, yet we've never been more paranoid.
Why is that?
We're all watching too much TV, I think. Too much news. Too much "Law and Order." Too many statistics. I looked up child abduction figures and found a lot of this kind of thing. Fact sheets highlighting every scary tidbit of information available, seemingly designed to do nothing but terrify us using utterly useless stats like: "Every 40 seconds in the United States, a child becomes missing or is abducted."
First of all, what can anyone do with that information? How do you process it? How do you contextualize it? "Every 40 seconds"? That makes it sound like it's happening on some kind of rapid fire schedule, and any child anywhere has an equal chance of being victimized.
Second, what does it mean to "become missing"? Are we including runaways in this?
Third, a child every 40 second out of how many potential children?
Fourth, how many of the abducted kids are nabbed by family members and parents?
The answer, of course, is that the vast majority of abduction cases involve custody disputes and warring spouses and other family drama. As for stranger danger, the numbers show that only 115 kids are kidnapped by strangers every year, and that's out of a pool of about 74 million. You read that right: 115 out of 74,000,000. That's how unsafe your kids are.
Granted, there are other dangers. I know that my two kids are more likely to be seriously hurt by the stair case, or the chemicals under the sink, or even a balloon -- and that really seems like all the more reason to get them out of the house on occasion.
Anyway, none of this matters. We can debate the finer points and argue over "parenting styles," but that's all rather irrelevant. The real issue is that government officials have an opinion that kids shouldn't walk to the park alone, and they are allowed to enforce that opinion as if it were law. And when you're found innocent of breaking the non-law, they can still hold you responsible. Do you get what's happening here? There is an agency of government that operates entirely outside of constitutional restrictions. Yes, many agencies do that, but this one can take your kids if it wants to.
While helicopter parents worry about a creep pulling up in a van and offering their children candy, the real abduction danger comes from these bureaucrats in pantsuits who show up to your house ready to cart your kids off to foster care. They're the kidnappers. And I make absolutely no moral or ethical distinction between a CPS worker who takes a perfectly safe and healthy kid from a loving home, and the creep in that van. They're no better. They might have different motivations, but it is evil either way.
Yes, there are legitimate cases of abuse and neglect out there, and that's all the more reason to condemn these agencies for wasting time harassing good and loving parents. It's all the more reason to demand that child protective services be held accountable, and that people who abuse their positions be sent to prison.
Not reprimanded. Not fired. Prison. The thug who threatened to steal the Meitiv children should be hauled away in cuffs and thrown in a cell. That's how serious it is. That's how egregious it is. That's how unthinkably despicable it is.
But, sure, keep worrying about the kids running around your neighborhood. They're the real problem, right?
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