Two Maryland parents stand accused of doing the unthinkable: They trusted their kids, 10 and 6, to walk home from the park. The children got about halfway there when someone saw them and called the cops.
For this, parents Danielle and Alexander Meitiv have been visited by the police and child protective services. Their kids were interviewed at school, without their consent. Authorities even threatened to take their children away.
All because we are having a hysterical moment in American society. We believe children are in danger every single second they are unsupervised.
I learned this firsthand six years ago, when I let my 9-year-old ride the subway alone (we live in New York). I wrote a column about it. Two days later I found myself decried as “America’s worst mom” on the “Today” show, MSNBC, Fox News and NPR.
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Obviously, I love safety: My kid wears a helmet, got strapped into car seats, always wears his seat belt. But I don’t believe kids need a security detail every time they leave the house. When society thinks they do – and turns that fear into law – loving, rational parents get arrested or investigated.
Consider these examples:
▪ Over the summer, a South Carolina mom who sent her 9-year-old to play in a popular park was arrested for not supervising her child. She was held overnight in jail, and her daughter spent 17 days as a ward of the state.
▪ In the fall, an Austin mom who let her 6-year-old play outside within view of the house was also visited by the cops and then child protective services. Authorities interviewed her kids individually and even asked her 8-year-old daughter “if she had ever seen movies with people’s private parts,” the mom told me.
▪ Last week I got an e-mail from a mom in Maryland. She’d left her 10-year-old in the car, watching her 1-year-old, while she – the mom – ran into the grocery. Someone called the police.
“I told him my daughter is responsible enough to watch her sleeping sister for 10 minutes, that I’ve never done it in the past but needed to get a few items, and (that) I didn’t want to wake her sister for that short a period of time,” she said. “He told me that a murderer that has never murdered anyone in the past doesn’t make him less of a murderer.”
Look at that language. Murder.
The authorities act as if these children are “lucky” they made it out alive. But the facts don’t bear that out.
Childhood abduction is exceedingly rare. As of 1999, the latest year for which we have statistics, the number of American children abducted in what’s known as a “stereotypical kidnapping” was 115 – in a country of 72 million children under age 18.
Sadly, children are in far more danger of being abused, kidnapped or killed by their parents than by any stranger on the street.
That’s why Ernie Allen, the former head of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, told me: “We have been trying to debunk the myth of stranger danger.” He added that the safest kids are the ones with self-confidence.
Consider that word. It isn’t “parent-assisted confidence.”
To become street-smart and self-reliant requires spending some time doing things on your own. Like walking home from the park, once your parents let you.
Lenore Skenazy is host of the reality show “World’s Worst Mom” on the Discovery Life Channel.