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Where Does The Line Get Drawn?

Earlier this month a mom was arrested in Texas for allegedly allowing her kids to play on scooters unsupervised outside; the charge was child endangerment. Her two kids, aged 6 and 9, were scootering on their cul-de-sac while she says she was watching from a lawn chair. After being taken to jail – her kids clinging to her legs and sobbing – she was held overnight before the charges were dropped.

Apparently an anonymous neighbor made the phone call.

I don’t know the details here – just read about the story last week. And it continues to develop, as the mom contemplates suing the city, her neighbor whoever she can think of. The neighbor might have seen those kids completely unsupervised, wandering out into dangerous traffic. Or perhaps the buzzing from the kids’ motorized scooters was annoying and the neighbor was feeling peevish.

Whatever. Regardless of the details here, it’s clear that we are no longer living in the world of our childhoods, where kids ran off to play after breakfast and came home, exhausted and dirty, for dinner. Have we truly come this far in helicopter parenting? Or is the world truly this different, this scary?

I’ll confess, I fall more in the helicopter parenting camp than I’d probably want to admit. When my daughter walks next door to ask a friend to play, I stand at my front door to see what the outcome is, whether she disappears inside the neighbor’s house or comes back home. If Cora walks out to get mail I stand at the window and watch her the whole way: it only takes a second for someone to drive by and drag her into a car. At 5 and 7, my girls are still, I feel, too young to walk the half-mile to school by themselves or play “somewhere in the neighborhood” by themselves.

But I like to think that in a couple of years, I’ll be ok with it. Because the truth is that I’ll HAVE to be ok with it eventually, won’t I? Or do I plan on anxiously walking Maddie to her first job interview?

Was the Texas mom being criminally negligent, letting her kids play outside “unsupervised” on their own street? Or was she, perhaps, giving them space for some undirected, unstructured have-fun-and-learn-to-deal-with-your-own-stuff time? I honestly don’t know the answer.

But I know we have to start giving our kids the tools to stand on their own at some point, and perhaps a quiet, friendly cul-de-sac is a safe place to start.


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