'Free Range Parenting' Gaining Ground
"Free range parenting" has become a hot topic after a Maryland couple was investigated and charged for allowing their kids to walk home alone. But support for this type of parenting is growing.
Danielle and Alexander Meitiv made national news after police picked up their 10- and 6-year-old children walking home from a park without adult supervision.
The couple, who believe in a hands-off approach to raising their kids, are part of a movement called Free Range Kids, which encourages children to be independent and self-reliant.
Authorities charged the Meitiv's with neglect.
"They believe this is the right way to raise their children," Russell Simon, co-founder of Empower Kids in Maryland, said.
The Free Range Kids movement has sparked national debate about parenting and raises questions about how much freedom children should have and the rights of parents to raise their kids as they see fit.
Lenore Skenazy, from New York, founded Free Range Kids. She said parents who allow their children to play outside alone shouldn't be treated like criminals.
In 2008, she was named America's worst mom for letting her 9 year old son ride the subway by himself.
"It was a sunny Sunday and I let him take the train home and I wrote a column about it in the newspaper I was working for. And two days later found myself on every possible television show," Skenazy told CBN News. "I felt he was ready and he felt he was ready."
Critics argue that free range parenting is irresponsible and puts kids at risk.
"A 10 year old should never be in charge of a 6 year old," child and family therapist Susan Klein-Schilling said.
Skenazy blames the media hype surrounding highly publicized abduction cases for making parents afraid and overprotective.
"It just starts feeling like 24/7 television. You can see a child being kidnapped and so it feels like 24/7 if you open the door and let your kid outside that's what's going to happen," Skenazy said. "It's really hard to keep any kind of perspective when the only story about kids that you see on TV is children in danger."
Supporters of the movement say the number of missing children and stranger abductions are down from previous years.
"Free rangers are right," said David Finkelhor, director of New Hampshire University's Crimes against Children Research Center. "Crime is down, and serious stranger abductions are relatively rare."
But some experts believe it's dangerous for kids to walk around unsupervised.
"You have to think about where child predators go," family therapist Dr. Linda Mintle said. "They look for parks; they look for public places; they look for kids away from the watchful eye of a supervising parent."
Meanwhile, parents say they should be able to raise their children as they choose, free range or otherwise.
"It's balancing that right of the parent to make a quick judgement versus the state stepping in," Mintle said.