Cambrian: Opinion

Hey, kids, what's wrong with a little independence?

The columnist's son, Miles Woodsmall, heads out with his backpack at age 10. Miles, now 28, was encouraged to be independent as a child.
The columnist's son, Miles Woodsmall, heads out with his backpack at age 10. Miles, now 28, was encouraged to be independent as a child. Special to The Cambrian

I  write this in response to an event currently happening in a Maryland suburb. Parents Danielle and Alexander Meitiv have been charged with “unsubstantiated neglect.” Their lives are being turned inside out for their practice of “free-range parenting.” It made my blood boil, really.

I began taking informal surveys around town and about: 20- to 80-year-olds. Very interesting opinions. I was rather shocked at some of the responses — perhaps because of who provided them. Not what I expected. 

While my children were blessed to be born and raised in Cambria and pushed onto the school bus and left to their own devices at fairs and festivals and around, I myself was raised in a suburb, perhaps similar to the one where the Meitivs live. It was probably not even as safe as theirs — graffiti was starting to show up, people didn’t really pay attention as they might now, and I walked two miles to school each day and in the near-dark after Girl Scouts in the winter months. 

My own two sisters, one older by four years, one younger by four, were appalled that these folks would let their kids walk to the park. “With all the stuff that happens these days!” 

“How does one learn how to make their way in a world of all this stuff,” I asked. 

Pause. 

“I suppose we really do coddle our children. I guess I’m just a reactive person,” said the mother of a grown daughter and son. 

My friend of 22 was also appalled at letting kids walk by themselves. And she was raised here! I had wondered whether age or geographic location would make a difference in opinion, but apparently not. I know young parents in this town who refuse to let their children ride on the bus or walk anywhere or do anything on their own. 

Again I ask, how do they learn to think for and take care of themselves? 

“If a parent takes the time to walk with their children a number of times, show them the ropes and rules, what is wrong with that?” 

The response, after some pause again, was sometimes not as reactionary but still unsure. And then there’s the other side. 

A friend with a special child obviously had to spend even more time teaching and ingraining skills to navigate life. 

“Of course I was nervous! But I knew that she would never get anywhere in life if she couldn’t be trusted to make it on her own in some way! I couldn’t imagine her life if I hadn’t let go!”

Indeed, it is the letting go. How many people feed into the sensationalism and scare tactics of the media to make a buck or by the government to keep us distanced from one another (there is power in “community”!) Yes, there are bad things that happen. If you choose to believe that is all there is in the world, God (or whomever) help you!

I was grateful to find that a good 90 percent of the 30 or so people I surveyed felt as I did. 

“Heck, our parents threw us out of the house in the morning and told us not to come back until suppertime!” 

“Helicopter parents, the lot of them!” 

“Fer cryin’ out loud — why not spend your time looking for truly negligent parents! What business is it of the government to tell you that you can’t let your child walk to the park! Or anywhere else for that matter!” 

“No wonder we have obese or lethargic or paranoid, detached people around! They never get a chance to think for themselves or experience real responsibility!”

I agree with that group. Obviously none of us is going to let our kids traverse the Red Light District or Crack Alley unattended, but if our town is reasonably safe, a child should be trained and set free. 

How much scarier it was for these kids to be picked up by police and see their father threatened to be taken to jail because he was complaining about this happening! And then the second time they were taken to Child Protective Services (the parents were not even notified for two hours) and for the kids to think they were going to be taken away from their parents for simply being independent? What kind of messages are we sending? 

Perhaps at issue is that people do not take the time to train their children. Even worse, they do not take the time to get to know the people in their neighborhoods and beyond, get to understand those people on the street and teach our children about them as well (supposedly a “homeless” person was “eyeing” these kids”). Perhaps energy should be put into making the world safer by addressing the needs of those less fortunate.

How does one become “aware” when one is so oppressed? I vote free-range parenting. 

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