In the past week, I have read numerous news articles regarding the Meitiv family in Maryland. Almost every article that I have read has focused on one question: Are the Meitivs right or wrong in their choice to raise their children (ages 10 and 6) in what has been labeled the “free-range” style? I have read arguments describing the world as a dangerous place, and these arguments make the absolute statement that all children should be under adult supervision every minute of every day. I have also read the opposing arguments stating that children need to learn self-sufficiency and should be allowed the independence to explore the world on their own. I have read how statistics show children are more likely to be abducted or abused by family members or family friends than by strangers on the street. I have read the “what if (insert worst case scenario of choice)” arguments. In the end, it seems to me that the national debate over the right and wrong of the Meitiv’s parenting choices is entirely the wrong debate.
It does not matter if you agree with the Meitiv’s decision to allow their 10-year old son and 6-year old daughter to walk unsupervised about a mile from their home to the park to play. What does matter is how the situation in Silver Spring, Maryland was handled by the authorities. After reading several different news articles describing the situation, the following timeline has emerged:
- 5 PM – a police officer stopped the children while they were walking home from the park. By Mrs. Meitiv’s account, the officer coerced the children into the back of his patrol car while promising to take them home. Rather than keeping his promise, he took them first to the police station and then to a child protective services crisis center. The children were left in the back of the patrol car for at least two hours before they were turned over to child protective services.
- 6 PM – the time the Meitivs expected the children to return home for dinner
- 8 PM – the Meitivs are contacted by authorities, this is the first notification the parents received of the children’s whereabouts.
- 10:30 PM – the Meitivs are finally allowed to see their children
I can only imagine the terror these parents felt for the two hours between 6 PM and 8 PM. As a parent, I know that this is the thing of nightmares. Can you imagine the fear these children experienced for five and a half hours? Sitting in the back of a patrol car and then at a crisis center, with no dinner until well past bedtime on a school night had to be terrifying for them. The Meitiv family went through something that no parent or child should ever have to face, especially at the hands of the local police and child protective services. Yet the national debate is not focused on how the authorities acted inappropriately and caused tremendous stress and worry to this entire family. The argument is that by letting the children go to the park unsupervised the Meitivs were placing them in potential danger of a predator kidnapping them and therefore are unfit parents. By this reasoning, every time a parent straps their child into a car seat and drives down the road, they are potentially endangering that child because they may get into an accident and therefore they should be punished. Ridiculous I know, but we cannot go down the path of punishing people for crimes that may happen in the future.
To put it in perspective I went searching for statistics and this is what I found:
- According to the CDC, in 2011 there were 650 children ages 12 and under who died in car accidents, and 33% of those children were not in car seats or wearing seatbelts.
- According to the National Criminal Justice Reference Service, each year there are an estimated 115 children abducted by strangers, and only 50 of those children are killed.
It goes against everything that we have been conditioned to believe, but let that sink in for a moment. A child is thirteen times more likely to die in a car accident than at the hands of a stranger who has kidnapped them.
Another example, this time out of Port St Lucie, FL: Nicole Gainey gave her 7-year old son a cell phone in a specially made case that hung around his neck so that he could keep in contact with her and then she allowed him to walk the half a mile to the park to play. The police were called, picked him up from the park and drove him home. After questioning Ms. Gainey, the officers arrested her for child neglect.. Before this incident, her son was a normal outgoing boy who loved to play outside. Now he refuses to go outside, even into his own fenced in back yard, unless his mother is watching him because he fears that she will be arrested again if he is out of her sight.
The authorities in both cases were allowed to terrorize these children all in the name of “protecting” them from neglectful parents. Where is the outcry over the psychological damage the authorities caused these families? You do not have to agree with these parent’s choices, but you do need to acknowledge that the only harm done to these children came at the hands of the police and child protective services. These children were playing outside. They were not bullying other children. They were not spraying graffiti on the sidewalks or the walls of local businesses. They were not throwing rocks at passing cars. They were not breaking any law. How is it permissible for them to be terrorized by authorities?
When did we as a society allow our government, and by extension the police to start telling us how we can or cannot raise our children? According to the U.S Department of Health & Human Services’ Child Welfare Information Gateway website, in “2008, an estimated 1,740 children died from abuse or neglect…” My question is, shouldn’t police and child protective services focus on saving those children who are in greater danger?