Michigan Parents Let 6-year-old Walk to Store, Two Cop Cars Show Up
At last it was the big day for Tom D’s daughter, age 6: The day she would walk to get a Gatorade all by herself.
She wouldn’t have to cross any big streets. And her parents made sure she was well-equipped: They gave her some money, and her mom’s phone so she could be tracked, and a hand-drawn map – even though the store was just a few blocks away.
This was in a Detroit suburb. Dad Tom has asked his last name not be used, for fear of retribution from the cops.
Because cops indeed were called. No sooner had the girl turned onto the larger road where the store is, than an older man stopped her, and summoned the police.
Tom was tracking his daughter, and when he saw she wasn’t budging, he went out to see what was going on. As he arrived, so did two cops.
“They were asking me what I was letting her do and I said, ‘I’m letting her walk to get a Gatorade.’ And they asked me her age and I told them,” Tom recalls.
“Don’t make us call Child Protective Services.”
“They said, ‘She’s not old enough,’ and I remember thinking, ‘That’s your personal belief. You don’t know my kid at all!’ But I remember thinking, ‘I need to tone myself down.’”
His prudence paid off. “The cops said, ‘We don’t want to bring Child Protective Services into this,'” indicating that they certainly could, if pushed. So Tom gave them his name and identification, and promised, “I’ll make sure she’s inside our house going forward, officer.”
And that’s what he and his wife have done. They have changed their parenting, not due to actual danger, but to other people’s perceptions.
In which a child gives up.
This, in turn, has changed their daughter. After the thwarted walk, “She wanted to try almost immediately again,” says Tom. “But we did not allow her to. Because if she tries again and they find her again, they’re definitely calling Child Protective Services on us.”
The spunky little girl asked a few more times. And then…she stopped asking.
Her parents changed, too. “We were both for the idea [of the walk] before anything happened. And afterward it was like, ‘Well, let’s just be a little more cautious,'” says Tom.
More cautious? They’d prepared their daughter as if she was headed to the Himalayas. Map! Money! Phone! How excessively cautious must a parent be?
How to create child anxiety:
This is why we never blame parents for “helicoptering.” Our culture insists parents hover! And yet, as childhood independence has dwindled, childhood anxiety and depression have shot up. This is no coincidence.
The way anyone gets over ANY fear is by facing it — by doing the daunting thing. But if you want to feed anxiety, just treat a competent person as incompetent. Warn them that everything’s dangerous. Stop them from doing things they could handle.
A walk to the store, for instance.
Until we change our laws and norms, decent parents who want to nurture their children’s growing capabilities will be forced to smother them instead.
How to fight the fear-mongerers:
Let Grow is working to change the laws, so that allowing kids to do things like play outside, or walk to the store cannot be labeled neglect. To date, five states have passed our “Reasonable Childhood Independence” laws: Utah, Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado and Virginia. Similar laws just passed in Connecticut and Illinois — unanimously — and await their governors’ signatures.
But we’re trying to change everyday life, too. We want it to be as normal to see a kid walking to the store as it is to see a kid in a car, or on an iPad.
A kid who’s excited to be part of the world shouldn’t be locked inside until she stops even asking to go out. That’s not safety. That’s a tragedy.
Our Kid License could help well-meaning bystanders who talk to your kids.