Nonetheless, recently I asked:
"Have you ever wanted to give your kids some independence — to walk outside, stay home alone, play at the park, etc. — but decided not to because you worried that someone might call 911?"
Of 348 responses, more than 55% admitted that indeed they have second-guessed their own parenting instincts — actually, they felt compelled to IGNORE their own parenting instincts — for fear of being mistaken as neglectful.
Part of the reason is that the neglect laws in 47 states are just too open-ended, as Let Grow's first-of-its-kind survey revealed. Many say things like, "Parents must provide proper supervision for their kids" — but don't explain exactly what is and is not proper. Is it proper to let your 7-year-old stay home while you run to the grocery? I'd say yes — if you know your kid and know they will be responsible. Is it proper to let your 9-year-old walk your 4-year-old to her play date? Again, it depends. If you trust your 9-year-old and trust the neighborhood and trust your 4-year-old to listen to her sibling — that seems fine. The thing is that you, the parent, know your kids better than any passerby possibly could, or anyone sent by the state to investigate.
On the Let Grow website, there is a map of all 50 states' neglect laws.
The laws should require the authorities to prove that any normal childhood activity they're investigating — say, a kid running an errand, or staying home alone for a while — is dangerous. It's not enough for the state to say, "Well, something COULD go terribly wrong!" That "something" must be obvious, statistically likely and seriously dangerous for the parent's decision to be officially questioned.
How about you? Have you found yourself second-guessing what might have been a simple plan in another era, like letting the kids get to soccer via their bikes and not the back seat? Maybe you even remember what it felt like to be trusted that way. (If you are over age 40, insert a sigh here.)
As you may have heard, the good news is that some states are changing their laws. Just last month, Oklahoma AND Texas both narrowed their neglect laws to say that simply NOT supervising your kid 24/7 does not rise to the level of neglect.
They also made it clear that just because a parent doesn't have the resources to provide constant supervision doesn't mean they're neglectful. Poverty is not a crime.
That's a great start. My nonprofit, Let Grow, will be working in five or six states next year, trying to pass more laws like this.
Kids need some independence to learn how to make their way in the world — to be creative, proactive problem-solvers. Feeling compelled to keep our kids close when we believe they are ready to spread their wings (or even come home with a latchkey) is no way to raise a family.