A note that arrived yesterday:
Dear Let Grow: I read the Reason.com article and agree with most of it (I grew up in the ’60s). I was wondering if I could get your opinion on the Meitivs’ situation. [The Meitivs allowed their kids, 10 and 6, to walk home from the park in 2014 and were investigated for child endangerment/neglect.]
I live in Maryland off of Georgia Avenue (the road along which the children were walking). It is a very busy 6-lane road and this isn’t the safest part of town. I don’t see anything wrong with the 10-year-old walking to and from the park. What bothers me is that the 10-year-old is responsible for the 6-year-old.
Do you think the 6-year-old is old enough to walk to and from the park alone? If not, then the 10-year-old has been given full responsibility. How can he play at the park and watch his sibling at the same time? Shouldn’t he be able to play without that responsibility? And what if he’s playing and doesn’t notice that his sibling wandered off or decided to walk home alone? I would be grateful for your opinion as it continues to be a topic of conversation in this area. Thank you.
This is indeed a question that a lot of parents have. I was about to write a response discussing how anthropologist David Lancy found that 40-60% of the world’s children are still primarily raised by their older siblings and we have forgotten how competent kids can be. But then I found this wonderful reply to a similar question posed back when the Meitiv firestorm first erupted. So allow me to reprint it here. (I like re-reading it!)
Thank you, commenter Havva, for dissecting the arguments being hurled at Danielle and Alexander Meitiv and Free-Rangers in general. Here’s what Havva wrote to “Just a Mom,” a woman who commented on yesterday’s post about the Maryland kids, 6 and 10, picked up for playing in a local park, unsupervised:
Dear “Just a Mom”
You write: “10 years old is too young to supervise a 6 year old”
When I was 6 my neighbors sent their 5 year old across the street (alone) to come fetch me so we could spend an hour or so rollerskating together. Neither of us were supervising the other. When my mom was 5 she walked [to school] with just one other kindergartener. There is nothing about this age that is incapable of walking from point A to point B in reasonable safety.
“The parents aren’t even giving their children means to handle an emergency if one arises.”
Nonsense. The kids know their way around. They know their address and phone number. They have tools to handle an emergency.
“If they are going to let their children run Free-Range, why don’t they have a cell phone to be used for emergencies?”
I didn’t get a cell phone until I was an adult. If it is “for emergencies,” it is just another thing to lose or break that has little chance of getting used, and is easy enough to work around in the event of an emergency.
“Even adults should have a phone on them if they are out jogging, walking, or on their own.”
Carry one if you want. They can be nice and handy. I love to have one when I’m going unfamiliar places. But I jog my neighborhood without one, I don’t need extra crap just because I’m going to be out of my husband’s sight for a bit.
“What if one of them did something as silly as break their ankle from landing wrong? …How would they contact their parents if they couldn’t walk home? Rely on strangers to borrow a cell phone?”
The chances of them both simultaneously breaking their ankles is astronomically small. The uninjured kid fetches help, or helps the injured one home. Same as my friends and I did in any number of accidents. And yes, they can ask someone to let them call home if needed. That is the point of memorizing the parent’s phone number. In the last 5 years I have let two kids borrow my cell phone because their parents were very late picking them up from school.
“Moreover, they were warned by CPS not to do this again. They’re putting their children’s welfare at risk to continue doing this. For what?”
The previous case was closed. Kept on file, but closed. Yes, CPS expressed extreme displeasure, but CPS couldn’t actually make a case of it. The time before that was closed entirely, I believe. So yes the Meitivs were being bold and tempting fate. I don’t think I have the nerve to be as bold, because I agree with you that CPS is a danger to the welfare of children such as these. But the family also had reason to believe that with their legal resources they could keep the trouble down to the annoyance level. And they believe, as I do, that children have a right to grow up. Part of growing up is having growing amounts of independence and the chance at self-reliance. They are doing this because they are defending their children’s rights. You can no more have an adult take the place of Devora (6) and Rafi Meitiv (10) in this fight, than you could replace Rosa Parks with a white man. If our children are to have any rights at all, some time, somewhere, someone had to fight back. It is a worthy cause, if the kids are on board.
“Refusing to take a few hours out of your day to accompany your children to a park is not worth having them traumatized or taken away like this. … If your children are old enough to go to the park alone, they’re old enough to help cook dinner and do chores in the evening when you all get home.”
This isn’t about refusing something to the children. It is about giving them freedom. My mom taught me to do chores. But she also understood that children have an enormous need for exercise and exploration. And at a certain point, they have to test their wings.
“You don’t have to be right on top of them while they’re there. You can sit under a tree and play on your phone, read a book. Just so you are there in case of an emergency.”
Being there “in case of an emergency” short circuits the child’s need to solve problems on their own and discover their inner strength. It wasn’t fun when I catapulted from my bike and limped home with much of the right side of my body skinned and bleeding. But it was an amazing, wondrous experience. I learned that I could suppress panic, and that much of the pain was really from my fear. I learned what it was like to come through the initial shock. Oh, my parents and teachers had tried to tell me these things many times. But it didn’t mean anything, until I discovered it on my own. This and other accidents bestowed on me a firm faith that I can and will find a way through whatever life throws at me. I wish everyone who considers helicoptering “harmless” could see: the confidence to handle an emergency is critical. And playground-level injuries are excellent for building that confidence with minimal risk. Why would I intentionally deprive my child of something so critical to living well?