Free Range Parenting

From “helicopter parents” to “tiger moms,” there seems to be a label for every style of parenting today. But none has received as much attention recently as the “free range” method of parenting that has sparked discussion and controversy. The question of what constitutes child neglect versus allowing children to learn independence and self-reliance is all over the news.

Although several cases of “free range” parenting have sparked debate across the country, the center of the storm was in Montgomery County, focusing on Danielle and Alexander Meitiv of Silver Spring. The Meitiv’s two children, Rafi (age 10) and Dvora (age 6) were picked up by police in December 2014 after authorities received a call that the children were walking home alone from a local park. In February, Child Protective Services (CPS) charged Danielle and Alexander Meitiv with “unsubstantiated neglect”, which the couple has appealed. Maryland law prohibits children under 8 from being unattended in a dwelling or car, but there is no reference to outdoor supervision.

The story and debate continued this past spring. The children were picked up again after a man walking his dog observed the pair walking home alone from a park eight-tenths of a mile from their home. According to son Rafi, the police told the children they would drive them home. Instead, brother and sister were held at Child Protective Services (CPS) for 5 ½ hours and the Meitivs were informed of the children’s whereabouts two hours after they were due home from the park. The parents were then required to sign a safety pledge saying that they will not leave their children unattended.

The “free range parenting” movement was created by Lenore Skenazy and seeks to provide children with the skills to be independent in what she views as an over-scheduled, over-supervised environment for today’s child. Skenazy has published a book on the topic, created a website and even has a Free-Range Kids app. For the past five years, the Free-Range Kids movement has sponsored a “Take Our Children to the Park… and Leave Them There” Day. This year, it was held on May 9th in honor of the Meitiv family, asking that parents allow their children to walk home from the park unattended if they feel they’re ready.

As summer approached, the free-range parenting initiative particular to the case in Montgomery County got some clarity from Maryland officials. The new policy says that Child Protective Services should not be involved in these free-range parenting cases unless children have been harmed or face a substantial risk of harm. According to Katherine Morris, spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Human Resources, “We are not getting into the business of opining on parenting practices or child-rearing philosophies. We don’t view that as our role.” The charges specific to the highly publicized Maryland case have been dropped.

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