Parents of Kids who Get Too Many Bruises May Be Charged with Neglect

Hi Folks — This story comes to us from Australia, where the federal government is telling child protective workers to consider — and classify  — kids who “often” hurt themselves as at a “high risk of neglect.” “Accident-prone children might be the victims of poor parental supervision,” is how AdelaideNow sums the reasoning up.  Thus, anyone treating (or seeing?) bruised or clumsy kids is told to assess the role that parental supervision — or lack thereof — played, even in minor accidents.

The theory behind this isn’t bad. It’s true that severely neglected children, especially young ones, may be hurting themselves because their parents are (as this study suggests) totally out of it, on drugs, or passed out on the couch.

But I have to think this call for scrutiny and immediate suspicion would have a chilling effect on any parents ready to let their kids have some Free-Range, old-fashioned fun and independence — like riding a bike, or climbing a tree. If a kid wipes out on his bike one week, bonks his head on a branch the next, is he a lovingly tended child with parents who believe kids can (and even should) endure a couple bruises? Or is he  a neglected child? And how can we be sure the evaluator will be able to tell the difference?

Or even believe there IS a difference?

My fear is not so much that the authorities will mistake normal childhood injuries for the negligence endured in the home of severely drug-addled parents. I fear that, increasingly, normal childhood injuries won’t be considered normal anymore, period. So any kid sustaining them will automatically be considered neglected, because why weren’t the parents right behind him on that tree, or standing under it with a safety net?

The New South Wales Children’s Commissioner quoted in the aritcle, Megan Mitchell, said, “I don’t think we can expect parents to be super-parents but they need to know what their child is doing as best they can.”

What the heck does that mean? Is it enough to know my kid is playing outside and will be home by dinner? Or should I know every activity he will be participating in from 10 a.m. till 6 on a Saturday, including that he’s going to jump off a swing at 12:16? The commissioner went on to say that she would “hope” that prosecuting parents “would be reasonably rare and that people in authority would establish a relationship with the families and then make a good judgment about whether there is a real problem or not.”

But where we see no problem, the authorities could. And the authorities have…authority. Therein lies the problem. – L.

So if he falls off his bike and gets a little banged up — say, twice or three times — are his parents “neglectful”?

My Kids Are Not Allowed to Play Outside (So Now They Are In the Mobile Home with Me)

Hi Folks — This letter has me  down, but not nearly as down as the writer. When the authorities start to believe the world is worse than it is and hence that kids are less safe than they really are, naturally they see independence as dangerous. Free-Range Kids exists to spread the word that our kids are NOT in constant danger, and parents who believe in their kids are NOT endangering them. They are empowering them. Or at the very least, giving them a childhood. Any advice on how to change the zeitgeist FASTER is appreciated! – L 

Dear Free-Range Kids: I found your site today while searching for the law. Today the police visited my home after one of my neighbors called in about my children being outside alone…in our yard with a home on two sides and six foot fence on the other two sides. The officer said, “Don’t have me called back out.” So now, do I have to go outside with my children every time they go out? I have a chronic illness and sitting outside all day sucks for me. They love being outside. They come in for bathroom breaks, they come in to tattle, they come in to say “I Love You”… they are in and out every 5-10 minutes. I check on them anytime I pass the door, and I lay or sit next to an open window. If I call for them, they come to the door/window and answer as a “check in.” They will literally stay outside from wake up to 9 pm, when I force them to come in, with breaks for the above and for food. They were perfectly safe. I don’t know what to do. 😦 Do I punish my children and make them stay inside? Or torture myself, putting me in great amounts of pain to sit outside with them all day, every day?  I plan to call CPS tomorrow to see if they can shed any light on the situation.

Lenore here: I suggested the mom not call CPS, lest she alert them to behavior they don’t condone. Call me paranoid, I just keep getting letters from folks who’ve had run-ins with the authorities. So the mom wrote me another letter:

I believe a neighbor was standing on their porch and saw the boys outside. They have been playing outside together for more than a year now. They are not directly supervised as in me sitting outside with them, but I am not sleeping or GONE.  I can’t believe the officer told me he better not have to come back out! I’m incredibly nervous and haven’t allowed them outside to play at all since then. Today my back hurts so bad I can barely go to the bathroom, much less outside to sit with them. I am at a loss on what to do.

I have also had a different police officer tell me that my kids going to the bathroom alone is dangerous. I tried to explain Free-Range parenting and he said he still takes his 11-year-old daughter into the men’s room with him! It’s depressing here 😦

The mom and I wrote back and forth some more but the long and short of it is: How dare the auathorities declare kids cannot play outside IN THEIR OWN YARD! It’s like putting them under house arrest! Free-Rangers, all I can say is: please fight on. – L

Outrage of the Week: Mom Arrested for Letting Her Kids, 11 & 7, Walk to Pizza Shop

Yes, readers, it’s another case of child protective craziness. According to the Manchester, Conn. Patch, a local  mom was charged with “risk of injury to a minor and failure to appear after police say she allowed her seven-year and 11-year old children to walk down to Spruce Street to buy pizza unsupervised.”

And according to reader Bob who sent this to us, Google Maps shows that we are talking about a half-mile walk! In addition to the solidarity of outrage, please post your ideas for how to protest the idea that kids are in danger every time they do something on their own,  even something dumbfoundingly  mundane, which means also protesting any time helicopter parenting becomes the only  “legal” way to raise our kids. – L.

Shh! Don’t tell the cops I let you get this on your own, kids!

The Latest Trend: “Alcatraz Parenting”!

Hey Readers! ALCATRAZ PARENTING. Let’s popularize that term, okay? We need it, because we’re getting to the point when children are monitored by GPS, cell phone and camera in ways prison wardens can only dream of! Check out this ad:

The mom says she  has cameras “in the playroom, the living room, the kitchen. And from my mobile phone and computer I can check in on them any time and it just gives me some added peace of mind.”

Great. And just what does it give the children? That added sense that Big Mother is watching. That sense that they are never safe without her electronic eye upon them. (It doesn’t MAKE them any safer, of course. It just reassures the mom.) It also tells them they are never free and never completely to be trusted. Just like prisoners, except with refrigerator privileges.

BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!

Just as I was going to end my post,I got this letter in my email:

Dear Free-Range Kids:

I just got two tickets for child abuse because my 7 yo and her friend were playing in the complex when 2 older girls tried to hit them with sticks. They ran away and my daughter, being frantic, got lost. The police found her and brought her home. They then  gave me a ticket for both girls but not the other girls parents! One officer said I could not let her out to play at all without me. The other said she could but needs to stay close and tell me where she will be, which she always does. There are many children in this complex who play outside alone! They said children under 16 must be supervised.

How are these topics — the cameras in home and the tickets for unsupervised kids — related? They both start with the assumption that children are never safe without an adult by their side, either physically (if they’re outside) or electronically (if they’re inside).

That is a RADICALLY NEW, DYSTOPIAN VISION OF CHILDHOOD! It is not based on reality, as the reality is our children are safer today than at almost any time in history. It is based on FEAR.

The result? Alcatraz Parenting, either by choice, if you buy into it, or by force if you don’t…but the authorities do. – L

This is NOT a Crime! Cops Charge Dad Who Let Kids Play Alone in Park for 2 Hours

Readers! As we approach our third annual, “Take Our Children to the Park…And Leave Them There Day” (Saturday, May 19), this story is outrageous. Apparently a dad let his two kids, ages 6 and 9, play in a local suburban Pittsburgh park on Saturday morning for not quite two hours while he did some shopping and took a shower. That is, while he went about the tasks of everyday life.

Meantime, a woman noticed this unusual thing: Kids playing without an adult around! That this fact was “disturbing” to an onlooker is what is so disturbing about our culture. For millennia, kids kept themselves occupied while their parents were otherwise engaged. A 9-year-old watching a 6-year-old was NORMAL, not a REASON TO CALL THE COPS.

But call the cops she did. And when they got there, they charged the dad with two counts of child endangerment. Meantime, of course, child protective services is investigating, too. Because any time you trust your children or your community, YOU cannot be trusted.

That’s what we’ve come to. You are punished for believing in your kids’ self-reliance and the neighborhood you chose to raise them in. Hence, the Free-Range Kids movement. Hence this Free-Range Kids blog. Hence…I wish I knew. We have GOT to turn our country around or children will be prisoners of their parents, and vice versa, all in the name of “caring.” Ask me, that word is missing an “s” at the beginning. – L.

UPDATE! “Police Chief Defends Charges Against Dad”   

Do you suppose the parents of these kids were charged with endangerment, too? I don’t see them hovering.

Keep Overprotective Parenting from Becoming the LAW!

Hi Readers! I am thrilled to present to you a post by David Pimentel, a professor of law and author of a scholarly article on how to keep overprotective parenting from becoming the law. As he writes in his abstract:

…the powerful influence of media has sensationalized the risks to children, skewing popular perceptions of the genuine risks children face and of what constitutes a reasonable or appropriate response to such risks. Consequently, individuals who do not buy into Intensive Parenting norms, including those from different cultural and socio-economic backgrounds, may be subjecting themselves to criminal prosecution for child neglect and endangerment.

The criminal statutes are, for the most part, very vague, leaving these prosecutions—which amount to little more than one person’s second-guessing the parenting choices of another—in the discretion of prosecutors, who bring the charges, and of juries, who render verdicts. If prosecutors and jurors share the media-fed misperceptions of risk, overprotective parenting becomes the de facto legal standard of care.

Terrifying!! He’s fighting it where it counts — in the court of legal opinion. Please click on his site and then download his article to show that there is genuine, even passionate interest in the topic! (The legal world takes note of how many downloads he gets.) And later this week  I will share a post by him. — L.

Where are their parents? Headed for jail?

Wednesday, Prince Spaghetti Day, 2011 Version

Hi Readers! I love this idea that one of you sent regarding the Prince Spaghetti commercial. Enjoy it and have a great weekend — I’m off to Toronto to film another episode of my show. Remember: We still need some overprotective families in Toronto and/or New York City. So far, all the families that have participated really enjoyed it. (Me too!) — L.

Dear Free Range Kids: Yes, I remember that commercial.  They should update it and get some real publicity! (Hey, Lenore, Prince Spaghetti could be a sponsor of your TV show — with this new commercial)

The kid runs through the streets. Concerned helicopter parents watch as he passes. Several whip-out cellphones and call CPS.

Bystanders watching the boy talk of how dangerous it is to be unattended as a child in a dangerous city. (A siren sounds in the distance.)  The camera zooms in on a woman peering from a second story window, a look of grave concern etched on her face. She turns to somebody in the room and suggests calling the police. A voice says, “Don’t worry, he’s probably running home because it’s Prince Spaghetti Day.”

Scene change. Two policemen arrive with Anthony at his mother’s door. They read Mom the Riot Act and Anthony pipes up that it’s Prince Spaghetti Day, but the police say that’s no excuse to risk his life at HIS AGE because you never know when a pervert or murderer will kidnap and murder you.  The policeman finally leave. One says, “Maybe it was worth the risk since it’s Prince Spaghetti Day.” His partner jabs him in the ribs and says, “You can’t be serious!!”

The door closes. Anthony rolls his eyes at his mom. His mom nods and says it’s time for dinner. Then statistics roll across the screen telling how safe it actually is today for children to play outside …and that the likelihood of a child being killed in a car crash is far higher than being kidnapped. — Steve