The recent case of the Meitiv children aged ten and six, whose parents allowed them to walk to a park near their home without adult supervision and who have since found themselves charged with neglect over the practice, has divided parents and the general public both in America and here in Britain.
The Meitivs, both scientists, practice free range parenting, a form of parenting which gives children total independence from infancy. As part of this practice, the Meitiv’s children have been walking regularly to and from their local park, which is an eighth of a mile from their home. The children were alerted to the local authorities after a man out walking became concerned for their welfare. It is not known from what age the children have been allowed to walk around their neighbourhood without adult supervision.
Parents around the globe are up in arms over the state’s interference with this family’s way of life. The Meitivs themselves have now hired an attorney and are looking to sue for the intrusion – they have had to sign a parenting plan saying they will not let their children walk alone – though who they are going to sue is not yet clear. It’s a messy state of affairs, which calls into question the extent to which the state should be allowed to interfere with family life and the boundaries of child neglect.
For us, though, it’s a no brainer.
Whilst parents should have the ability, and freedom, to take care of their children and bring them up in a way which they consider appropriate and in their best interests, there are always going to be instances where a parent’s judgement falls foul of basic common sense and puts their children’s wellbeing at risk. For us, free range parenting is one of those exceptions.
It is pseudo-intellectual clap trap, spouted by the same parents who’ll tell you that their two year old speaks fluent Chinese and learned to handle a Brazilian wandering spider blindfold, whilst listening to Baby Mozart. And we’ve heard it all before. These are the parents that will insist children need to be toughened up, that they need to be pushed out of the nest – that they mustn’t be wrapped up in cotton wool, and God forbid we should watch them like a hawk in the playground as they swing upside down like crazed monkeys on LSD.
But are these parents really doing their kids a favour, or is it just pure vanity?
There is no denying that introducing the element of risk is necessary and important for children. It teaches them boundaries, situational assessment, trial and error and develops their sense of awareness. Most of us would agree that the level and type or risk employed depends on the age of our children and what they can handle as growing individuals. And yet, one thing no one can argue is that a ten year old and a six year old walking around alone have no ability to defend themselves from child abusers or murderers.
It’s at this point that the free range parent will stand up and tell you with confidence, “Ah, yes, but the likelihood of that happening is so small, that it’s not even relevant.”
And that, for us, is the most bizarre argument for free range parenting there is. Even if there was only a microscopic chance of our children meeting that fate out and about on their own, we simply wouldn’t take it. Why? Because we don’t need to.
Children can develop and gain their independence without being thrust into the outside world before they’re physically and mentally able to take it on. They can be taught to think for themselves and be accountable for their actions in safe spaces, where they can grow and flourish, without being placed in situations which harbour the potential to harm them.
When children are good and ready to go out and walk the perhaps not so mean streets of a city or town on their own, they will have ample opportunity to hone their independence then, without being placed in environments which could get the better of them, before they acquire the necessary survival skills. Most ten year olds can’t fend off a fully grown adult, and there is no reason why they should have to. If free range parents must let their children walk the streets alone, they could at least walk behind them undetected, and make sure they’re safe.
When the Meitiv’s children didn’t return home that day at 6pm (they were being held by the police who were trying to locate the parents), we wonder what must have gone through their minds. Were their children lost or dead? Was the free range parenting really worth it? Given that they’re now fighting to uphold their parenting technique, we can only assume that they’ve let the horrifying possibilities fade away, and instead have chosen to ignore them. And that in itself, is utterly daft.