Something is definitely wrong. No, I am not talking about the political environment either. We have begun to see more and more mothers being arrested simply because they have allowed their children a little independence. When is it okay to allow children to “go to the park to play” without supervision? That seems to be at the heart of this question. But, more importantly, why is up to strangers and/or police to make that determination instead of the parents?
Nicole Gainey, a Port St. Lucie, Florida mom was arrested on Saturday for letting her 7 year-old son Dominic walk alone — in the daytime, with a cell phone — a half-mile to a local park. “I honestly didn’t think I was doing anything wrong,” she says. “I was letting him go play.” But, she was arrested for letting her son “go play”.
During his approximately ten-minute walk, the boy passed by a public pool, where a patron asked him where his mother was and other questions. As he told a local news station, “I got scared and ran off to the park, and that’s when they called the cops.” Police picked up the boy at the park, brought him home and arrested his mother for felony child neglect. In their report, police noted that “numerous sex offenders reside in the vicinity.” Gainey says the cops “just kept going over that, you know, there’s pedophiles,” which sounds to me like the kind of problem that perhaps there’s a better approach to than whisking kids off playgrounds and arresting mothers. The State’s Attorney’s office notes that there is no law regarding how old children can be before they can travel unaccompanied.
In case you missed that last sentence, the State’s Attorney’s office notes that there is no law regarding how old children can be before they can travel unaccompanied. If that is the case, how can the police arrest this woman for felony child neglect? Where is the “probably cause” needed to arrest someone of a crime? There isn’t one, except that a total stranger thinks that allowing a child to go and play is child neglect, and a police officer agrees. Talk about making up laws as you wing it.
This case falls on the heels of the other one that was reported on in South Carolina. Debra Harrell let her child play at a park near where she worked while she worked her shift. She was arrested too. Not only that, she lost her job because of the arrest. Her daughter is 9 years old. She even lost her child to the custody of the Department of Social Services for a brief time. She has subsequently got her daughter and her job back. But, she still faces charges and can spend up to ten years in prison for letting her daughter to “go play”.
I have always believed that as a parent it is your responsibility to gradually allow your children more and more independence. That is the only way that gain the tools necessary to live on their own in the real world. I do not understand this rush to treat parents as criminals simply because they believe their children are capable of playing by themselves or with their friends. That has always seemed natural to me. I went outside to play by myself when I was the age these children are. I used to walk several blocks away from my house in order to go play basketball. I even walked by myself several blocks to school when I was 5.
Today, there seems to be a rush of the self-anointed, self-righteous people who think that children are incapable of playing outside by themselves. Just because they need to have their children under their thumb 24 hours a day, they think everyone else should keep their children under the thumb as well. It is just another case of pushing your values on other people whether they want them or not.
Yes, I know that children face problems out in the world. We, and our children faced the same problems. Before you argue that I was in the military and therefore living in a “closed” neighborhood, I was in the Coast Guard and we lived in the local community. With only about 25 people stationed in an area, the government didn’t provide base housing. The difference is that we and our parents taught our children how to protect themselves and to run away when faced with uncertainty. Today, it seems the people afraid of their own shadows don’t want children to enjoy themselves without the parents chasing after them.
As a matter of fact, Ms. Gainey’s son showed exactly what children should do. When he was peppered about personal and private matters by a stranger, he ran away from that stranger! That was precisely what I taught my children to do. He showed that he would not allow strangers to hurt him. Yet, he was dragged out of the park by police and his mother arrested.
Every child is not the same. Each parent is not the same. Some children can “go out and play” by themselves earlier because their parents taught them to protect themselves. Maybe the difference today is that people are not interested in “neighborhood” closeness. Maybe the difference is that some adults are more interested in “proving” they are better parents than their neighbors. Whatever the case, these arrests are not doing any good.
Child neglect is a very bad thing. But, child neglect is not feeding your child. Keeping them locked up in the cellar. Locking them in a car for several hours. Physically beating them. Or, a host of other evil things that some parents have been convicted for. But, letting a child play outside is not child neglect. Police said there were pedophiles in the area. Yet, over 90% of children sexually abused are not abused by strangers.
It is hard enough to protect children from bad people. I cannot imagine how terrifying it must be to be arrested simply because your child was allowed to “go outside and play”. That is insane!