'Free-Range' Parents Are Investigated After Letting Kids Walk Home Alone From the Park

The Discovery building in Silver Spring, MD
The Discovery building in Silver Spring, MD, where the Meitiv children were stopped and picked up by police.

Michael Graham Richard

On December 20, 2015, two kids were picked up by police while walking home from the park. They were halfway into their one-mile walk through Silver Spring, Maryland, in front of the Discovery building, when they caught the police’s attention because they were young—a 10-year-old boy and his 6-year-old sister—with no accompanying adult nearby.

The authorities claim to have children's best interests at heart, but they don't hold with any alternative parenting styles that challenge the textbook definition. It leads to the disturbing question of "Who owns the children?"

The kids were not lost; they had their parents’ permission to walk the one-mile distance home alone and had done similar unsupervised walks in the past. The police, however, escorted the kids home, gave the waiting father a lecture on the dangers of the world, and pressured him into signing a safety plan pledging he wouldn’t leave his kids unattended until Montgomery County Child Protective Services followed up. Refusal to comply, he was told, would result in the removal of his children.

Danielle and Alexander Meitiv are not irresponsible parents; rather, they support a model called “free-range” parenting, which allows children to explore the world with freedom and without fear. It’s a parenting style that could also be called old fashioned, as it’s the way countless children have been raised for thousands of years, up until the last half-decade.

In Europe, the free-range approach is more common than in North America. Mikael of Copenhagenize tweets about his son's first unaccompanied walk to school:

I remember the first day Felix walked to school alone at 7. That's him in the middle of the shot. He was so proud. pic.twitter.com/dT63TeAHiq
— Copenhagenize/Mikael (@copenhagenize) January 17, 2015

The Washington Post reported on the Meitiv incident:

“The Meitivs believe in ‘free range’ parenting, a movement that has been a counterpoint to the hypervigilance of ‘helicopter’ parenting, with the idea that children learn self-reliance by being allowed to progressively test limits, make choices and venture out into the world.”

The Meitiv children usually carry a card that says, “I am not lost; I am a free-range child,” but they did not have it on the day the police stopped, and who knows if it would have been effective. In the days since the event, the family has been under investigation for neglect by CPS.

While CPS does fulfill an important role in society, this incident reveals the disturbing insistence of the state to push its child-rearing view on perfectly capable, loving, and conscientious parents who simply have a different philosophy.

The majority of children nowadays are over-protected to the point of absurdity. They are taught to fear the world and everyone in it; have a stunted sense of orientation because of the lack of time spent exploring outside; and fail abysmally to handle themselves with confidence as soon as they’re thrust out into the big scary world. Ironically, at the same time, they are over-exposed to violence in video games and the media they consume with such voracity, and sicker than ever from lack of physical activity.

The authorities should take a different approach. If they are truly so fearful about the dangers of the world – which are usually overblown in the minds of paranoid parents – and if Silver Spring is such a terribly dangerous neighborhood in broad daylight, then they should stop wasting time and resources chasing down individual families and penalizing children and start investing in making neighborhoods safer.