The long-awaited decision from Child Protective Services has arrived at the home of Maryland free-range parents Danielle and Alex Meitiv. It finds them “responsible” for “unsubstantiated child neglect” for letting their kids walk outside unsupervised.
If that decision makes no sense to you, either — how can parents be responsible for something that is unsubstantiated? — welcome to the place where common sense crashes into bureaucratic craziness.
It’s a mess.
Although the investigation is “closed,” it appears that the authorities will keep a file on the family for another five years — which actually sounds as if the case is open. What happens if the Meitivs have the goshdarn temerity to let their kids walk or play outside without adult supervision again? Well, I do have an idea of how to strike back (two ideas, in fact). But first, a recap:
On a December day in Silver Spring — suburban D.C. — the Meitivs allowed their children, ages 6 and 10, to walk a mile home from the park. A busybody spied them and called 911. The cops scooped up the kids, drove them home and threatened the dad that shots would be fired if he didn’t comply with their demand to see his ID.
Yes, shots. The mom wrote that to me in an email because I founded Free-Range Kids, the movement that is always pushing to give kids the same kind of freedom most of us had when we were young. The Meitivs read my blog and share the same philosophy, and when they ran afoul of the law, they got in touch.
But despite this bureaucratic bullying, the parents remain unbowed. “Allowing kids to be free-range is critical for their development,” Danielle says. “We will continue to let our kids roam. Thankfully, CPS harassment like this is not common. The best way to make sure it doesn’t happen is to make free-ranging as common as it was when we were kids.”
So, how do we do that? How do we get so many kids outside that no one spying one reacts as if he saw a giraffe at the stoplight?
My two suggestions:
1) I’ve drawn up the Free- Range Kids and Parents Bill of Rights, which states, basically, that kids have a right to be outside unsupervised if their parents let them — and parents have a right to not get arrested if they do. You can find it on my Free-Range Kids blog, at www.freerangekids.com. If it resonates with you, take it to your next town hall meeting.
2) I also created a site called Free-Range Friend (freerangefriend.com). You log in and enter your ZIP code and the years your kids were born. Then you can find other local parents who’d like to send their kids outside. It’s free, and it’s anonymous, so no one can get any personal info unless you choose to share it. But the point is: The more kids outside the safer — and more fun — for everyone.
No one’s going to call 911 to report, “There are 17 kids by themselves at the park!”
Or if someone does, maybe that person will be found guilty of unsubstantiated hysteria.
Lenore Skenazy is host of the new show “World’s Worst Mom” on Discovery Life Channel. She is also a keynote speaker and author of the book and blog “Free- Range Kids.”