My parents would be deemed career criminals by today’s standards. That’s not to suggest that I believe that they ever committed any criminal acts. It’s just that the things they did with me and my siblings back in the 1970’s and 1980’s now society calls “child neglect” and/or “child abuse.” I’m referring to the numerous liberties that they took in allowing us to walk to the park by ourselves at a very young age. I’m also referring to the times that we took the public bus without parental supervision and/or wandered the malls alone. This was pre Adam Walsh time here in South Florida, so that type of behavior was engaged in by many loving parents, like mine. Today, those same parental choices would most likely lead to their incarceration.
A Florida mom, just this past week, was stripped of her liberty and charged with felony child neglect after she allowed her 7-year-old son Dominic to walk to the park alone. Mother Nicole Gainey made sure her son had a cell phone for the 10-15 minute stroll. While Dominic was on his solo journey, concerned strangers approached and peppered him with questions like, “Where’s your mother?” Dominic ran off, frightened by the strangers’ inquest. The strangers called the police who approached Dominic at the park and asked him where his mommy lives. That led to the mother’s felony arrest. Officers wrote in their police report that, “Numerous sex offenders reside in the vicinity.” Dominic’s mother is still shocked by the entire situation, believing that he had the maturity to handle the half mile walk by himself.
This isn’t the first time a parent has been arrested recently for allowing a youngster to walk somewhere alone. A couple of months ago, Debra Harrell was arrested and charged with “unlawful conduct toward a child” after letting her 9-year-old daughter play at the park unsupervised while she worked her shift at McDonald’s. Additionally, Child Protective Services were called to investigate an Ohio father who allowed his 6-year-old daughter to walk a few blocks to the post office by herself.
One expert, Lenore Skenazy, author of “Free Range Kids” thinks we’ve become too afraid for our children. She asks, “Are we supposed to lock all our children inside for their safety at all times, and then we’re negligent child abusers if we don’t?” Also, she opines that the idea that there are predators everywhere is a false one. As support for her position, she points to much lower violent crime rates. She also cites a recent study published in an Economist article concerning sex offender laws in Georgia. According to the article, only 5 percent of the people on the registry posed an actual threat to children.
As a father of three children, ages 12, 10, and 8, I don’t currently allow any of them to walk to the park by themselves. My wife and I are not willing to take even a 1% chance that something abhorrent could happen to them along the way. Candidly, while my wife and I recently and reluctantly allowed our 8 year old to play basketball in our front driveway by himself (he’s obsessed with the sport), we aren’t comfortable with it. We’ve seen too many stories about child abductions. An unfathomable nightmare that we want desperately to avoid.
Even though it’s not parenting choices that I would make and/or support, I don’t think that most of these parents who allow their kids to walk by themselves should be arrested. At worst, Child Protective Services should investigate. Once a parent’s level of awareness has been increased, the problem will most likely be solved. Stripping them of their freedom and labeling them as felons, is a too much and in most instances, unnecessary.