Via the very nice folks in my Facebook feed, I come across an article by Slate’s Hannah Rosin describing the term “free-range children” and the dangers parents of such children face for raising their children in this diabolically devious fashion. In case you’re unfamiliar with the term, “free-range children” are kids with the freedom to walk to and from specific places unsupervised. Advocates of this shockingly dangerous counter-culture movement even place cards in their children’s pockets saying “I am a free-range child. I am not lost.” Parents in this delusional worldview believe the outdoors isn’t a terrible place for a child, that our environment is a lot safer than we’re led to believe, and that kids need to learn to go places by themselves for the sake of understanding calculated risks.
If you can detect the snark in my tone, then you’re off to a good Monday morning start. Ten to fifteen years ago, the very thought of putting a card in a child’s pocket to let a governmental official know he or she wasn’t lost–merely exploring–would prompt many parents to seek professional mental health . Yet now, for some reason, we think the overbearing level of supervision equates to “best parenting practices,” and judge accordingly. We justify this attitude by telling ourselves the world is a different place, and that no one can be trusted, and that life is far more dangerous than before.
But is it really? In most neighborhoods, crime is down and the dangers of allowing your children outside unsupervised are minimal. The most danger many children would face today is getting lost. Despite this, despite the fact we have homeland security SUVs in our streets and armored personnel carriers in our police garages, we tell ourselves it’s more likely than not an unsupervised child will get kidnapped or worse. Though we think ourselves rational beings, we consider “best parenting practices” to hover and protect our child from every perceived danger. Failure to do so is negligence, and punishable by removal of your children from your home while you work extensive “permanency plans.”
None of this is a surprise to us who work in the justice system. There is no genuine outrage from those of us who cut our teeth in juvenile court, and who continue to serve in that field despite low pay and no respect from court-appointed clients. This is the system society allows, and it’s the system we perpetuate “for the good of the children.” We who work in the juvenile justice bar have said this was a problem for some time, and it’s a sad moment of schadenfreude to see people that condemn parents for taking medication legally prescribed by a doctor cry in anguish over having their right to leave their kids alone stripped from them in the same fell stroke.
I’m a fan of Alex Jones’s “Info Wars” programs for the entertainment value they provide for an afternoon following time at court or in the office. He is a fan of telling listeners that problems are far more worse than he actually “reports” during his hours on-air, and preaches that our ideological house is on fire, and only one or two people are standing there with bailing buckets trying to extinguish that flame. I think his analogy is very much relevant here. We’ve allowed ourselves to stand in the burning flames of the house that is our institution of parenting for too long, telling each other everything’s fine as the burning cinders of one’s right to raise children as he or she sees fit sting our faces. Now we’re in the dead center of a full on roaring bonfire that is the very right to parental autonomy, and only a few professionals are on the outside with bailing buckets yelling desperately for parents to leave the building.
“Parents, we need to fight back” reads the header of Rosin’s article. This is something attorneys have told parents for years, and yet with every single child in delinquency court being urged to take a plea, every single custody hearing where parents bow to the Department’s wishes, and every single time a magistrate orders compliance with an alcohol and drug assessment, that fight slowly dies in parents. I’d like to think the right to determine whether your children should be allowed to walk between two points unsupervised is the final tipping point where we push back and say “no more” to the State, but at this point in the game I’m just not sure that’s even possible.