Helicopter Parents? Helicopter Government Is More Like It

Police pick up kids for the “crime” of walking home unsupervised.

Apparently, the brownshirts who masquerade as government officials in Maryland believe doing something utterly outrageous once is worth doing it twice. For the second time in five months, two children, ages 10 and 6, were picked up by police for the “crime” of walking home unsupervised within a mile of their home.

The first incident occurred Dec. 20, when the children attempted to make the trek home from Silver Spring park. Police picked them up and brought them home to parents Danielle and Alexander Meitiv, from whom they demanded identification and warned about the dangers of the world. Montgomery County Child Protective Services (CPS) showed up two hours later and demanded that Alexander sign a safety plan promising he would not leave his children unsupervised until the following Monday, when CPS would follow up. He initially refused, saying he wanted to talk to a lawyer, but ultimately complied — because CPS threatened to remove his children from the home. After the holidays, CPS called and said they needed to come to the home and make further inquiries. Danielle resisted, but a worker showed up anyway. She refused to let him in. Later she was stunned when told by her children’s principal that CPS had interviewed her children at school.

Ultimately, the Meitivs were found responsible for “unsubstantiated child neglect,” meaning CPS would maintain a file on the family for at least five years, leaving open the question of what would occur if the children were allowed to walk home alone again. “We don’t feel it was appropriate for an investigation to start, much less conclude that we are responsible for some form of child neglect,” said Danielle Meitiv after the first incident, even as she wondered if her family would get caught in a “Kafkaesque loop” if her children were stopped walking by themselves again.

Flash forward to Sunday, April 12. Once again, the kids were on their way home from Ellsworth Park at 5 p.m. when they were stopped by officers — in three separate squad cars — three blocks from their house. This time, the kids were kept in a squad car for nearly three hours and away from their frantic parents who expected them home at 6 p.m. Adding insult to injury, the CPS didn’t notify the Meitivs they had their kids in custody until 8 p.m. and wouldn’t let the parents see them until 10:30 p.m. They were allowed to take the children home, but once again had to sign an agreement saying they would not be left unattended until CPS followed up on the case.

During the entire time the kids were held they were not fed, and Danielle told The Washington Post her son said the children were misled into believing the police would take them home. Police also had the parents’ contact info and did not call them or allow their children to do so. Apparently the quaint notion that one is entitled to a phone call didn’t apply here.

What’s really going on? The Meitivs believe in a concept known as “free-range parenting,” as in the effort to raise independent, self-reliant children by incrementally testing limits and allowing them a certain amount of freedom away from overly protective parents. The reason such a seemingly basic parenting approach must be formally conceptualized is due in large part to the explosion of its polar opposite, more familiarly known as “helicopter parenting.” Helicopter parents are those who “hover” over their children. Licensed psychologist Ann Dunnewold aptly describes the phenomenon: “It means being involved in a child’s life in a way that is overcontrolling, overprotecting, and overperfecting, in a way that is in excess of responsible parenting.”

To be fair, there are excesses and extremes in both parenting camps. But the germane question is this: Which style is preferred by the increasing number of big-government, busybody bureaucrats and their seemingly insatiable desire to insert themselves in as many facets of peoples’ lives as they possibly can?

If one knows the answer to that question, it becomes simple to understand why the heavy hand of government has been laid upon the shoulders of Danielle and Alexander Meitiv.

Fortunately, the Meitivs have legal precedent on their side. Meyer v. Nebraska and Pierce v. Society of Sisters were two landmark cases from the 1920s in which the Supreme Court ruled that the 14th Amendment’s Due Process Clause allows parents and guardians “to direct the upbringing and education of children under their control.” In Troxel v. Granville, a case adjudicated in 2000, the Court reaffirmed the “fundamental right of parents to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of their children,” further characterizing those decisions as “perhaps the oldest of the fundamental liberty interests recognized by this Court.” None of these rulings mean parental rights are absolute. The state can intervene to protect children from health and safety hazards and to ensure they receive an education. But they must have compelling evidence to do so.

Picking up two elementary school-aged kids walking home by themselves — just as millions of American children used to do before the professional hand-wringers and their government enablers turned life itself into an all-encompassing hazard — doesn’t pass the sniff test. As George Mason University law professor Ilya Somin so rightly explains, if the CPS can force parents to stop children from walking home alone, “it can similarly target every other comparably risky activity, including numerous sports, and even driving the children in a car.”

The DC-based law firm of Wiley Rein apparently agrees. They will pursue “all legal remedies” to protect the Meitivs’ rights, further noting the parents were “rightfully outraged by the irresponsible actions” of the Maryland CPS. “We must ask ourselves how we reached the point where a parent’s biggest fear is that government officials will literally seize our children off the streets as they walk in our neighborhoods,” said attorney Matthew Dowd in a written statement. In a telling indication of their commitment, Wiley Rein will be representing the Meitivs pro bono.

Here’s hoping the “helicopter government” in Montgomery County, Maryland, gets it wings seriously clipped.

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