Culture, Science & Faith

Arresting Parents for Letting Kids Play

Unaccompanied minors have become a major problem in this country.

Nate Jackson · Sep. 2, 2014

Unaccompanied minors have become a major problem in this country. But we’re not talking about the tens of thousands of illegal minors pouring across our southern border and then being released to sponsor families around the nation. We mean children left playing on neighborhood playgrounds – gasp – unattended by adults.

In recent weeks, there have been numerous stories of parents being arrested for leaving their children to play without supervision. Lenore Skenazy, author of “Free-Range Kids,” writes, “In another era, it not only would have been normal for a child to say, ‘Goodbye, mom!’ and go off to spend a summer’s day there [at the playground], it would have been odd to consider that child ‘unsupervised.’ After all, she was surrounded by other kids, parents, and park personnel. Apparently now only a private security detail is considered safe enough.”

This is not an argument for abandoning one’s children for hours on end with no available supervision. One mother was arrested for leaving her nine-year-old at a park in order to work a shift at McDonald’s. But while the merits of her babysitting strategy are dubious, we’re not convinced it was worthy of 17 days behind bars, much less the potential 10-year prison sentence.

Yet a Reason/Rupe poll revealed that 68% of Americans think there ought to be a law prohibiting kids nine and under from unsupervised play. For 12-year-olds, some 43% still think a law is needed, and even letting a 10-year-old play alone in their own front yard is frowned upon. Who knew helicopter parenting was this popular?

Common knowledge (62% of those polled) says the world is more dangerous than a generation or two ago, but the truth is that crime is at its lowest levels since World War II. Child abduction is no more common now than 40 years ago, and today’s kidnappings are often committed by estranged spouses. And as the Christian Science Monitor noted in 2012, “[T]he last time the crime rate for serious crime – murder, rape, robbery, assault – fell to these levels, gasoline cost 29 cents a gallon and the average income for a working American was $5,807.”

Crime is still serious, even at a lower rate. And appropriate precautions with children are always in order. But why the overabundance of fear? Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, blames the 24-hour news cycle. Turn on the news, he says, “and all you have to do is watch how they take a handful of terrible crimes against children and repeat that same handful over and over. And then they repeat the trial over and over, and so we’re conditioned to live in a state of fear.” After all, who wants to become the subject of one of those stories? According to the Reason poll, more than two-thirds think news coverage is either accurate or underestimated.

Other factors could be at play, including the prevailing culture of lawsuits for every real and perceived injury – that’s why playgrounds themselves are so different today. Also, the breakdown of the family and communities has left many mothers parenting alone and turning to the government. Or maybe we’ve gotten so overprotective simply because kids are so expensive. According to the USDA, raising a child in a middle-class home can cost $245,000.

There are important implications of this shift in thought, and they’re not limited to children or parenting. Take ObamaCare for example. Democrats are correct that, while the law as a whole and as implemented is not looked upon favorably, some of its individual provisions – like keeping “children” on parents’ insurance until age 26 – are popular. In fact, most government programs that “take care of people” enjoy wide public support, which is why responsible fiscal management of those programs is nearly impossible.

Children may well be marginally safer in this tightly controlled environment, but they also may not be learning critical life skills such as responsibility, problem-solving and independence. Hence, when they grow up, they want government to do things for them.

And sometimes, children never actually do grow up, which is why statists are so successful at fomenting envy among various constituent groups. Petty jealousy is a prevalent trait among five-year-olds, and leftists know just how to cultivate it into adulthood.

One key to breaking this cycle of dependence is for parents to raise their children with a bit more independence and responsibility. Start small but keep growing. America was birthed with the Declaration of Independence, and in order to recapture its greatness, our children must learn autonomy. Maybe even by going to the playground on their own.

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