Free-Range Parents And Cheetah Pits

Published 3:43 pm Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The headline certainly caught the eye: “Md. ‘Free-Range’ Parents Under New Scrutiny.’

Free-range parents?

I couldn’t imagine.

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The Associated Press story, of course, gave me the facts.

“Two suburban Washington parents are under scrutiny again for letting their 6-and 10-year-old children play in a park and walk home alone in a case that has stirred debate about ‘free-range’ parents and government powers,” the AP story began.

“For the second time in four months, police picked up the children of Danielle and Alexander Meitiv on Sunday as they were walking home alone from a park that’s nearly a mile from their house. This time,” the story continued, “instead of taking the children home, police took them directly to Child Protective Services.

“It’s beyond ridiculous,” Danielle Meitiv said Monday. “The world is safer today, and yet we imprison our children inside and wonder why they’re obese and have no focus.

“The Meitivs believe in ‘free-range’ parenting, which includes allowing children to play and walk alone in the neighborhood to teach them self-reliance and responsibility,” the AP quotes her as saying.

She’s right, of course. It is beyond ridiculous. The Meitivs dropped their kids off at the park after a six-hour drive home from upstate New York. Be back home by 6 p.m., the couple told their children.

It shouldn’t be against the law to allow your kids to play in the neighborhood park, even if it is a mile from home. Doing so may not be on every parents to-do list, but that is for the parent to decide. Not the government.

Look, the world can be a very dangerous place but some children face the greatest threat right at home from abusive parents, the whole neighborhood under the impression they are safely home sweet home.

Undoubtedly the Meitivs have analyzed the character of their neighborhood and believe their children are safe. That is their decision.

Such was my own parents’ decision when I was a kid. I just didn’t know that all those years ago I was being raised by ‘free-range’ parents. Growing up in west end Richmond, I walked six blocks to and from elementary school every day, up and down Grove Avenue, a pretty busy street with all sorts of people driving by.

But that was nothing. I was allowed to take the bus, by myself, to downtown Richmond, when I was 12 or so. On my 13th birthday, I rode my bicycle however many miles it was—and it was more than a few—to Parker Field that Sunday afternoon to watch a Richmond Braves baseball game, alone. Then I rode my bike back home.

The kids in the neighborhood, well, we rode our bicycles everywhere, down to the Fan District to the public library and stores on Cary Street, riding up and down the Civil War trenches—or we thought they were trenches—in Windsor Farms. On the Monday morning after Neil Armstrog and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon, some friends and I rode our bikes a couple of miles to a rock and mineral store across from the Byrd Theater.

That was back in the sweet, safe 1960s, which, wait a minute, weren’t any more sweet or safe than the decade we live in now. The City of Richmond has never been crime-free. So forgive me for siding with the Meitivs but I can’t work up any concern at all for the way they are raising their children.

Having your parent right by your side is no guarantee of safety, as the headline directly above the story about the ‘free-range’ Meitivs declared:

“Mom Charged After Boy, 2, Falls Into Cheetah Pit.”

The Washington Post story detailed that authorities in Cleveland had filed child endangerment charges against a mother whose 2-year-old fell into a cheetah pit “after she allegedly dangled him over a fence at the zoo exhibit,” according to the Post’s account.

“The toddler’s parents jumped into the exhibit and pulled him out. Zoo officials said the cheetahs did not make a move toward the parents or the boy,” the Post story relates, and a zoo official was quoted saying, “While this incident is disturbing to everyone, we are glad the injuries were not any more severe.”

The woman “was seen dangling the toddler…when he slipped and fell into the exhibit, where a 10- to 12-foot-high fence contains two male cheetahs. The child suffered injuries after falling 10 feet, with court documents showing that he broke his left leg.

Ironically, the Post story includes a report from the news site that the child’s mother works at a child-care center in Ohio.

Proximity to parents is no guarantee of safety. Being a mile from one’s parents doesn’t constitute being at risk. The todder might have been safer a mile from his parents and the cheetah pit.

The treatment of the Meitivs does reek of the “nanny state.” What’s next, a directive to police that being half a mile from home is grounds for neglect? A quarter of a mile? Fifty yards? Across the street? Someone can be abducted from the front yard. What distance is safe? What distance is dangerous? Distance, in and of itself, means nothing. The time of day, the neighborhood’s environment and other factors are far more important. Common sense should be the order of the day.

There are plenty of important roles government can and should play. Not allowing the Meitivs’ children out of the house to play is not one of them.

The Meitivs should be left alone. Their children will be very well prepared for life’s challenges because they will have developed self-confidence and a sense of the world around them, which can keep them from harm’s way now and later in life. Their internal radars will be tuned.
Life isn’t always a walk in the park, but the Meitivs and their children should be left un-harassed by the authorities if the couple allows their kids to walk home after playing in one.