Regina Harrell, 9, was removed from her home after her "negligent" mother let her play in a park unsupervised.
Last Sunday, the New York Times published a gut-wrenching article, The Families That Can't Afford Summer. The piece raised some important issues about the affordability of childcare and summer camps for low-income families, and the total major burden summer vacation imposes on them.
I have nothing but sympathy for the families who scramble to make arrangements over the summer... and nothing but anger for the helicopter parents who apparently go out of their way to make summer even more difficult for these families.
For example, remember the South Carolina mom who got arrested for allegedly leaving her nine-year-old daughter at the park while she worked at the nearby McDonalds? Even though the park was walking distance from their home, and the daughter had a key -- meaning she could go home at any time?
And the child knew exactly where her mom was (and how to reach her by phone) in case of emergency?
And there is no minimum age at which a child can be left alone by South Carolina (and most state) law?
Or what about the Maryland family whose "neighbors" called the police on them, repeatedly, for allowing their 10-year-old and 6-year-old to walk to and from the park?
Again, having broken no laws, they were charged with multiple counts of child neglect (though the charges were ultimately dropped).
Or the countless other examples of Child Protective Services or the police being called for completely ridiculous reasons?
This is a big part of the reason summer is so excruciating for so many low-income parents.
Kids are actually quite capable of entertaining themselves. They're quite capable of playing in a park or riding their bike or climbing trees or tinkering at home alone. But parents are afraid of the social and legal ramifications of doing so.
My family wasn't low-income, and I attended several summer camps each summer -- including basketball camp, sailing and scuba diving camp, and others. They were enriching and amazing enough to convince me that summer should never go away.
But! I also spent a lot of equally magical time in the summers taking care of myself. I am so grateful that my mom trusted my brother, sister and me to take care of ourselves -- and that we didn't have asshole neighbors who would call the cops on us if ever they saw us outside alone.
We would ride our bikes to the graveyard (about two miles away) and do ghost stuff.
We would climb trees and grain bins and farm equipment. We'd walk to the creek with our dogs.
We would do chores (gasp! chores!) and even play N64 or Math Blasters on the computer. We would read -- my mom would take us to the library once a week, and I would literally check out a garbage bag full of books.
Some days, she would drop us off at the library while she worked -- just for variety. We could explore all the different sections of books and magazines; log on to the computers and play games on the internet; play with the library pets (there was a snake and a hamster); and even be slightly obnoxious little shits and play manhunt.
She would give us a few dollars to buy some lunch when we got hungry -- yes, we would walk down the block to a sandwich shop unaccompanied!
For a while, we had a membership at the YWCA near the library, so I could walk back and forth between book town and swimming pool/ping pong town -- it was maybe half a mile.
And it felt super liberating to be able to do that. After all, independence is an important part of healthy development (there's a reason every Disney movie and fairy tale kills off the parents right away) -- and kids who spend time exploring on their own before the age of nine are less likely to have anxiety and attachment disorders as adults.
But, sadly, helicopter parents have started raining on this parade. In addition to making their own kids sick, scared and stupid... they want to mess up other peoples' kids, too.
But here's the thing, helicopter parents:
Just because your child is too dumb, immature, irresponsible or untrustworthy to be left alone, doesn't mean everyone's child is.
Just because you can afford a bajillion supervisors and instructors for your child, doesn't mean everyone can.
And just because you can't get over your own neuroticism and completely irrational fears, doesn't mean other parents can't.
Lenore Skenazy literally wrote the book on this. In Free-Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Kids (Without Going Nuts With Worry), the "worst mom in the world" walks you through how to get over yourself so your child can have normal, healthy development.
Just keep something in mind: while becoming a free-range parent might be a choice for you, it is a necessity for over half of America's parents.
So check your privilege. Instead of "busting" these parents by calling the police or CPS on them, see if there's a way you can help out. Put your money where your mouth is -- endow a summer camp scholarship. Make a donation to a community organization. Volunteer! Participate in a fundraising event -- The Guardsmen hosts some amazing events, the proceeds of which help send over 2,500 disadvantaged children to outdoor programs each summer.
You have the opportunity to improve someone's life -- or, at the very least, not make it worse. Is there any good reason not to?
About the Author
Eva is a content specialist with a passion for play, travel... and a little bit of girl power. Read more >
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