The Terms Of Child Neglect Have Changed
If any of us posting or commenting here were growing up today with the parental supervision we had when we actually did grow up, our parents would very likely be in jail for child neglect and we'd be in foster care.
David Bernstein over at Volokh links to guidelines published by the Arlington, Virginia Department of Human Services:
How Young Is Too Young To Be Home Alone?
* 8 years and under: Should not be left alone for any period of time. This includes leaving children unattended in cars, playgrounds, and yards.
* 9 to 10 years: Should not be left alone for more than 1 ½ hours and only during daylight and early evening hours.
* 11 to 12 years: May be left alone for up to 3 hours, but not late at night or in circumstances requiring adult supervision.
* 13 to 15 years: May be left unsupervised, but not overnight.
* 16 to 17 years: May be left unsupervised for up to two consecutive overnight periods.
Bernstein writes that at age 8, he not only played in his Queens backyard unattended, he remembers being "free to wander around" his neighborhood "unaccompanied by an adult so long as I came home before dark":
Somehow, I survived unscathed, as did each and every one of my peers.
[By the way, I'm not arguing over whether it's good practice to keep your eight-year-old supervised, I am instead arguing that its absurd to claim that allowing an eight-year-old to play in the yard unsupervised does not meet even a "minimal acceptable standard" for supervising children.]
He follows up with the story of a woman who says she was charged for criminal misconduct for leaving her child asleep in the car for five minutes while she ran an errand. Her case will be dismissed if she completes a parenting class and 50 hours of community service.
How many of your parents would be charged? How did you all manage to turn out okay?
My old New York Daily News pal Lenore Skenazy wrote a book about all the parenting paranoia, Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry, and has a website about it, too. Here's a story from her site:
You may recall that a couple weeks ago a mom in small town Mississippi, Lori LeVar Pierce, let her 10-year-old walk a third of a mile to his soccer practice by himself. Or she would have let him, that is, except he got picked up by the police a few blocks in.
The cop drove him the rest of the way, to ensure he wasn't abducted and murdered. Then the cop waited for Lori to show up (that's how responsible she is! She was meeting her son there 15 minutes later!) so he could tell her what a dangerous, crazy, maybe even criminal thing she had done, and how the police had received "hundreds" of calls to 911 about a boy dangerously on his own on that sunny afternoon.
I sure hope these people never watch "Lassie." They'd die of fright.
She explains there:
Do you ever... ..let your kid ride a bike to the library? Walk alone to school? Take a bus, solo? Or are you thinking about it? If so, you are raising a Free Range Kid! At Free Range, we believe in safe kids. We believe in helmets, car seats and safety belts. We do NOT believe that every time school age children go outside, they need a security detail. Most of us grew up Free Range and lived to tell the tale. Our kids deserve no less. This site dedicated to sane parenting. Share your stories, tell your tips and maybe one day I will try to collect them in a book. Meantime, let's try to help our kids embrace life! (And maybe even clear the table.)
She seems to be recovering nicely, by the way, after having been drawn and quartered by the American public for letting her then 9-year-old son Izzy take the subway by himself. As I posted back then:
Nancy McDermott writes for Spiked that Skenazy is considered by many to be guilty of child abuse because she gave her son, Izzy, 9, a $20 and a subway map, and trusted him to figure out that, from Bloomingdales, he should take the Lexington Avenue subway downtown and the 34th Street crosstown bus to get home.
"If he couldn't do that," Skenazy wrote in her column, "I trusted him to ask a stranger. And then I even trusted that stranger not to think, 'Gee, I was about to catch my train home, but now I think I'll abduct this adorable child instead.' Long story short: My son got home, ecstatic with independence."
And if you've read Barry Glassner's excellent book, The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things, which he tells me he's now in the process of updating, you know that the number of children kidnapped by strangers every year is actually pretty small. Skenazy writes of the most recent statistics here, on The Daily Beast:
Their chances of being abducted and killed by a stranger are, according to the numbers (Finkelhor) crunched, 1 in 1.5 million. That's about 50 children a year--a statistic it makes my stomach sink to write--but far less than the 1,000 killed each year by relatives or acquaintances, a far more stomach-sinking stat.