Free Range Helicopters?

917_4009531I grew up in a small town in the Midwest.  My mother has worked full time as long as I can remember, and when I was in Kindergarten, it was half day instead of full day.  I walked approximately 2 miles every day after school was over to my babysitter’s house, and never gave it a second thought.  I was a latchkey kid.  In the summer, my sister and I stayed home alone, we had neighbors that watched out for us but we were pretty self sufficient.  We saw the local news and the national news at night, but things that happened in other parts of the country were pretty much unknown to us.  The first big “crime” story I remember from my childhood was the Atlanta Child Murders.  From 1979-1981, a man named Wayne Williams was accused and convicted of the murders of at least 28 Black children and adults.  Before then, I never heard of such a sensationalist crime story.  Before the suspect was arrested, my mom and dad talked to us about “stranger danger”, we had a code word in case anyone other than our parents showed up to pick us up from school, and so on.

We didn’t live our childhood in fear, and neither did our parents.  We went outside to play.  We went to the park.  We rode our bikes and had a clubhouse at the abandoned railroad tracks 5 blocks from my house.

Today, parents would be absolutely aghast at the freedom we had.  They quite probably would call DSS or CPS on my parents.  Which is what recently happened to a couple from Maryland.  They allow their 10 and 6 year old to walk around their neighborhood unsupervised, and someone called the authorities.  They were convicted of “unsubstantiated neglect”, and they will be subject to monitoring for the next five years.  Five years of living under a microscope for letting your children walk to a park a block away.

My question is, why didn’t someone do something OTHER than immediately assume the worst and call the police?  What happened to the phrase “it takes a village to raise a child”.  When the village is out to get you, how do you trust it?  It may surprise many people to know that crime, especially crimes against children are actually LOWER than they were 10 years ago.  According to statistics, crime like rape, assault and murder is lower than it was in 2005.  Our PERCEPTION of crime, however is higher.  Parents say, I’d never let my child stay home alone, or walk to the park alone, and so on.  But did you know that less than 1% of child murders in this country are attributed to abductors?  In fact, if you break up the murder of a child into percentages; 97% of them are committed by a father, mother, acquaintance or relative.  So…basically your child is in more danger from someone he or she knows, than someone they don’t.

76_3586962Why do we think this state of abject parental terror is so prevalent?  The world is getting smaller and smaller every day.  Before the advent of the internet and global news, crime that happened 4 states away was unheard of, unless it was a national story.  Now a squirrel can pass out and fall out of a tree in Idaho and we will know about it.  That is why the perception of crime is so much higher.  Parents are in a state of heightened safety awareness because “what if” something happens to their child.

I completely understand the feeling,  but when is it too much?  When did we stop letting parents be parents and deciding that their decisions about how they raise their children were dangerous?  I don’t mean letting your 3 year old cook meth dangerous, I mean leaving a child that you think is old enough and responsible enough for an hour by themselves so that you can go to the store.  Or letting them go across the street to the park.  Or walk home from school and stay alone for 30 minutes.  Are all of those things really that bad?  How will we teach our children to be self-sufficient and how to handle being alone if they never are?  Free Range parenting may not be the answer, but Helicopter parenting isn’t either.  There has to be a happy medium in there, and letting people figure it out on their own without the fear of having Social Services called is one way to start.

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Melissa McAtee

Melissa McAtee

I'm a single mom of 2 originally from the Midwest. How many people can you say that you know from the Town of Normal? I have one son, age 14 and one daughter, age 17. I'm also engaged to be married in June, 2015. We also have 2 furbabies, Tinkerbella Pixiedust, a 9 pound Chin-Tzu, and Jack Sparrow, our rescue Boxer. I have quite a few nicknames; including Mama Mack, Wonder Woman and Chocolate Mary Poppins (all of which are totally true....).