[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

The story has exploded all over the internet : Debra Harrell, a Georgia woman, dropped her 9-year-old child off at a park–not an isolated and run-down one, but a park with playgrounds, splash fountains, and plenty of shade, one busy with other children and families–while she went to work her shift of several hours at McDonald’s. Her daughter had previously come with her to work, as other daycare options for the child weren’t available, but after their home was broken into and the laptop she’d let her daughter use while she worked was stolen, the bored daughter asked to be allowed to play at the park. Giving her daughter a cell phone to call her if there was an emergency, Harrell acquiesced to her daughter’s wish to be outside.

She did this three days in a row. Not ideal–everyone would admit to that. But still, a reasonable response to a difficult family-work situation, of which millions of Americans (especially women) are very familiar with. Except that this response led to various parents at the park contacting the authorities about this unsupervised 9-year-old, who then picked up the daughter, turned her over to social services, went to McDonald’s, interviewed Harrell, and promptly arrested her for “unlawful conduct towards a child.”

There are dozens of things you could rant about regarding this infuriating (and, for the Harrell family, tragic) news story. Family breakdown. Jobs that pay wages so low that full-time workers can’t afford daycare. Officious and overreaching stage agencies. Lousy public welfare services. But rather than any of those, what speaks to me most is this simple fact: rather than trusting in the competence of a 9-year-old, or showing interest in befriending her or assisting her mother, a bunch of strangers decided to call the cops.

We live on the west side of Wichita, in a pleasant (if old and emptying out) neighborhood along Westlink Avenue, just south of the fairly busy thoroughfare Central Avenue. We have raised four daughters here–and we have always let them roam and ride their bikes through the neighborhood, to Buffalo Park, in the mostly unused lot behind our house, to the public library five blocks away, to their elementary and middle and high schools, and through the usually empty overflow gully from the Cowskin Creek across the street from us. There have been bumps and scrapes and sprains from all this, of course–but that’s to be expected, right? They’re children, learning and exploring on their own.

Except that a year ago a policeman shows up at our front door, who proceeded to interrogate and chastize my wife–I was at work–for allowing our two youngest girls (then 9 and 7-years-old) to play with two friends of theirs (also 9 and 7) in the aforementioned gully near Central–inventing games, discovering crawdads, overturning rocks, generally being inquisitive, growing children. Some anonymous resident in our area had reported them. What if they were kidnaped? What if a car jumped the bridge over the gully on Central and crashed into them? Leaving four children to play by themselves out in the open–not in a yard, not a designated playground, but near the everyday activities of actual other people–was apparently terribly irresponsible, or so the well-meaning police officer, responding to an anonymous complaint, made clear. (It should be noted that Central goes over the gully approximately the length of a football field from our front door–hardly a great distance away.)

The most important difference between what happened to my wife and what happened to Harrell is that she was arrested, while my wife was “let off” with a warning. And there are many other differences. Her child was alone (though she had a cell phone). Her child was left at the park for a longer period (though she remained in that well-maintained public area, and was nowhere near the street). And, of course, possibly the biggest difference: Harrell and her daughter visibly belong to the African-American working class, while my wife and I and our children live in an all-but-completely white middle-class suburb.

But those differences pale beside the one overriding similarity: in both cases, the reluctance of observers to take enough interest to actually ask a question or two (much less contribute to children having their fun!) combined with a helicopter mentality which apparently assumes that any child not being watched or being constantly carted from summer camp to music lessons must, therefore, be an abandoned child, ready prey for the lunatics and criminals and hobos that supposedly lurk around every corner.

My wife and I aren’t stupid; we’ve been robbed twice while living in this neighborhood, and we know that there are always bad elements everywhere you go. But we also know that the American suburban paranoia about child-snatching is simply groundless; statistic after statistic proves that. And more importantly, we both remember being able to wander unintended around the countryside and suburbs in which we were raised as children; we both walked to school, responsible for ourselves; we both knew the innocence and danger and fun of being left alone, and we’ve always wanted that for our kids. (For past defenses of this approach, see here and here.)

What would I have done if I’d seen Harrell’s daughter playing alone, perhaps making friends or perhaps just quietly playing and making the best of her lot in life? I’d hope that I would have done what another person did, only a week after my wife got lectured to by the cop. This woman was out walking with her own kids, and she saw a couple of girls playing (she thought riskily) on the small pedestrian bridge which crosses the over-flow gully a ways down Westlink in the opposite direction from our house. She saw me in the front yard, pointed down the street, asked me in those were my children, and told me she thought what they were doing looked dangerous. I thanked her for her interest, and ran down the street to check on our two youngest, who were completely fine. (They’re adventurous but not stupid girls–a balance that, I suspect, they have developed in part because we let them play and learn on their own.)

I wasn’t bothered by the actions of that anonymous neighbor; on the contrary, I appreciated it. There’s nothing wrong–indeed, there is much which is right!–with watching out for and getting involved in one’s neighbors lives: that’s the sort of “neighborhood authority” which is necessary to building civic strength. The alternative to that is calling in the officers of the state, which too often does anything but build social ties. We need those state authorities; we absolutely do, as agents of public action in defense of basic equality and the common good. But we also need them not to overreach, and the only way that will happen is if we can set aside our baseless fears and (usually class-based) expectations long enough to show some trust in and support towards one another, especially in regards to how we are all trying to raise our kids. Someone in that park failed, whether they realized it or not, to show Harrell and her daughter that kind of trust and support, and now it is they, not the well-meaning (but probably also self-righteous) observant fellow parent, who is paying the price.

(If tl;dr hasn’t defeated you by this point, and yet you still want to disagree with me, go ahead and read Hanna Rosin’s superb and lengthy essay “The Overprotected Kid” and report back when you finally get the point.)

27 COMMENTS

  1. I think about this all time. It’s a great reason to know your neighbors (although of course not the only one), and not just those on either side of your house.

  2. I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s. At 9 years old I was roaming the neighborhood and nearby woods all summer long without any adult supervision. I have a 9 year old now. He has some freedom to roam but I definitely keep more of a leash on him than my parents did with me. One reason is because I know it’s a different world today than it was in 1978. Today there is a real chance of police being involved with minor things neighbors would have just handled on their own back then. It is unfortunate but it is the way things are now.

  3. Larry, you touch on the important point that, for a great many reasons, we all–not just our neighbors, but we ourselves as well–really do tend to invite the police into our lives more than was the case 30 or more years ago. I would like to believe that in helping our children develop the expectation that they really can figure things out on their own we are, in some small way, slowing that tendency–but there’s no way any one family can reverse it, especially when we ourselves contribute to it. I’m not sure I would want to reverse it, in fact; it is a good thing that the police now take domestic violence and child endangerment seriously in a way that they didn’t a generation or two ago. But in saying that, I acknowledge that I’m licensing people in their reluctance to get to know their neighbors and learn how to make reasonable judgments and show some trust and get directly involved when necessary, and instead to choose just to rely upon agents of the state when they see some kid throwing rocks, or climbing over a bridge railing, or swimming in a run-off, or building a fire. I suppose I just have to conclude that I want us to constantly and actively seek a new balance as different public concerns emerge, rather than just give up on the whole communitarian project entirely.

  4. Your core point is incredibly important — if we talk to each other instead of to systems, everything is better. Unfortunately, talking to a parent doesn’t always go well. Sometimes there is a fear that an abusive parent might ramp up the abuse at a mention from you. Sometimes there is real concern that your own children will suffer some kind of retribution if there becomes an issue between parents. I agree personal contact is better, but it’s complicated.

    The lady who dropped her kid was counting on the other moms there to protect her kid if there was a problem, or counting on the kid to protect herself. A cell phone does nothing. Following the same schedule day after day and leaving her for very long periods put her kid in a much higher risk category for being assaulted. Did the mom stop and make friends with any of the folks in the park? Did she ever talk to them? She expected them to watch out for her child, to do her primary job for her, without even a word or smile. Her situation was difficult, but that doesn’t mean she has the right to use other people without taking a moment to even form a relationship with them.

    The question of how much kids should be able to freely play, though, is a very hard one. Yes, it is very unusual for a child to be stranger abducted. But the consequences when it happens are pretty outrageous. Our old town had cases where a five year old girl was picked up and dropped off some hours later; an eleven year old was abducted and escaped assault in an isolated area by biting her assailant’s nose nearly off; many cases of cars driving by and inviting kids in. I don’t want to sound harsh, but you can teach a child to stay out of traffic, you can teach a child to whittle safely, you let kids teach each other to climb a tree, and accept that there are benefits and risks to those things. But you can’t teach a child to avoid an assault. Children, and to a degree young people, need to be protected from predators by older and stronger people.

    So does that mean kids can’t ever play without schedules and safety mats and a fence? Certainly not. But they have to play within the sight and hearing of an adult who knows she is in charge of being the protector. This is why we used to be able to play throughout the neighborhood when we were kids — because the neighborhood was full of women behind open windows or out in the yard and they all felt free to come running if their own or someone else’s kid called for help. And I have to note that when I ran off in these idyllic neighborhood runs, I had an older kid make sexual advances towards me. I doubt I am the only one who wasn’t entirely safe in those old wonder years.

    So no, you don’t have to sit your kid in front of the TV or only let her play in a privacy fenced yard. She can play in the field down the road. But you have to be outside, and near enough to hear if there’s a problem. Or one of the other kids’ moms or dads does. Yes, we need to let our children play. But today, we have to work and sacrifice to make that possible.

  5. Marie,

    Did the mom stop and make friends with any of the folks in the park? Did she ever talk to them? She expected them to watch out for her child, to do her primary job for her, without even a word or smile. Her situation was difficult, but that doesn’t mean she has the right to use other people without taking a moment to even form a relationship with them.

    This is an absolutely fair point. I fault (I think justly) those parents and observers and passers-by in the park who, rather than developing some kind of relationship with or at least getting to know the 9-year-old well enough to at least make a judgment call, apparently simply called the cops….but that goes for Debra Harrell as well. I don’t know if this is a park where she’d brought her child often (or ever) in the past, or if the opportunity for her to connect with any of the other parents there was ever available to her. I can imagine her being rather embarrassed or even intimidated at the prospect of approach a near-stranger and explaining her situation, but on some level, wasn’t that what she was kind of expecting her daughter to be able to do? So your point’s valid, I think.

    At the same time, we have to ask ourselves exactly what the standards of trust for children playing by themselves is these days. Would we wonder why Harrell apparently didn’t try to at least connect with some adult figure at the park when she left her daughter there if the girl had been 17? How about 14? 11? So much of this is admittedly contextual, but if all our discussions about it are unwillingly to push back against the (I think quite class-based) helicopter mentality even a little bit, then Harrell’s situation was hopeless from the get-go.

    I don’t want to sound harsh, but you can teach a child to stay out of traffic, you can teach a child to whittle safely, you let kids teach each other to climb a tree, and accept that there are benefits and risks to those things. But you can’t teach a child to avoid an assault….[T]hey have to play within the sight and hearing of an adult who knows she is in charge of being the protector. This is why we used to be able to play throughout the neighborhood when we were kids — because the neighborhood was full of women behind open windows or out in the yard and they all felt free to come running if their own or someone else’s kid called for help.

    Again, I can’t disagree with the points you’re making here, but I feel a need to qualify them. For one thing, my experience is that you actually can–save for those thankfully rare, always unpredictable and rare and horrifying cases–teach a child to avoid assault, at least a little bit. Children who are on their own can (and usually do, I think) learn enough from watching others to be able to recognize bad situations, and strangers to avoid as opposed to those who will be receptive. Is that a perfect defense? Obviously not–but it’s enough of one to lower the fear boundary at least something, or so I hope. Similarly, while it is certainly correct that the relative safety of neighborhoods two generations ago was at least partly the result of women being at home rather than working, I’m not sure I would go so far as to say that result was dependent upon children actually being in view and earshot of those women. I think it was more a matter of perception, one which would have been experienced both by those who might cause harm and those who might be in need of protection from harm. It’s not that I always had someone watching out for me as I climbed fences and crept through tunnels, but I had a general awareness that I could find help, if I needed it. What if the general presumption–felt by all–on the part of the many parents at that park in Georgia was that, of course, if a kid called for help, they could be trusted to quickly respond? To live in such a community, rather than a public space crowded with worried individuals, perhaps burned from enough past social encounters that they are no longer willing to give off that vibe, might have resulted in a very different set of actions on the part of Harrell, her daughter, and whomever it was that ultimately called the cops.

    • Excellent!

      My follow up thoughts.

      Don’t mistake me, it’s important to teach kids how to trust their instincts, not be afraid to act, etc. But a small, good, person who respects authority is absolutely no match ever for a large, authoritative, evil, and particularly armed person. There are too many cases of kids feeling like they have done something wrong because they couldn’t stop an assault, whether that’s because the adult was stronger or the adult was manipulative. Kids need to know that we will always be there to protect them, and that if something bad happens (because sometimes it does), it is not their fault. I know, that’s a hard line to walk.

      I’m not a fan of the “helicopter” parent criticism because there are so many conflicting definitions. I am a helicopter parent — because I’m over there, in the background, while my kids climb up the outside of playground equipment and get really muddy in ditches and get scratched up in trees and whittle and light fires. I’m not even paying attention sometimes, but I’m there. There are kids that are only allowed to slide down the slide and take the steps, who can’t go in ditches, who are dressed down if they tear their jeans and who don’t know what whittling is, but mom is not a “helicopter” mom because she works full time and puts them in school during the day and extended hours before or after. Presence is not bad parenting. There is a difference between the two stories above about police being called, and it’s definitive. In the one case, the mom was not there, in the other she was.

      But so many points. Judgements about age — I’ve seen young people that once would have been running cattle, establishing homesteads, raising babies treated in school like they can’t be trusted to know their own name.

      Human communication — it is a huge deficit that we just don’t blooming know each other. Obviously this broke down for the Harrell family way, way before the park incident.

      Class and parenting — it’s own whole book series. A big deal. We can learn a lot from the presumptions of classes other than ourselves about how to raise kids. All around.

      Play — even granting I think this is too much of a risk to have taken, which is the greater harm? These potential risks, or the unavoidable harm of being locked in a house or apartment away from people and the sun for hours every summer day?

      I’ll throw this out there: http://voices.yahoo.com/how-train-kids-hate-being-outdoors-12418353.html?cat=25

      Perception — that’s a lot of it. Do people feel they can’t get involved unless they get the texted Amber alert? Do criminals feel they can count on that?

      I’m really glad I’m seeing more and more writing in this line. I think the best thing this article does is point out that just because another parent’s judgement differs from yours, that doesn’t necessarily make that person call-to-CPS-worthy. That’s important to say.

      Ms. Harris story is a very long way from the root of the reason we have child protection laws — true abuse (beating a child) and true neglect (like starving a child). We need perspective.

  6. I lived my childhood in a wonderful time for children -the 50s. My mother, who loved us greatly, would let us run out of the house after breakfast. There were six of us, scattered throughout the neighborhood, riding bikes to the library (sans helmet or pads) playing ball in the street, fighting wars from separate pecan trees, etc. it was lovely! Did we hurt ourselves? You bet we did. Did some children get lost, kidnapped or killed back then? They did.
    I fear we are turning our children into neurotic “mamas boys and girls”, eager for some authority to tell them what is safe to eat, drink and think. It’s a prescription for slavery.

  7. @Kathy,

    Some of the kids you ran around the neighborhood with were kidnapped or killed, and you think the balance was still for the best? You didn’t actually know any kids that were killed or kidnapped, did you? Did you know of any in your city or your state when you were growing up?

    Ours is a middle class family. Our first home, guy sold drugs three doors down (probably pot, not improbably meth). Our second home, mom from our playgroup who lived in a half a million dollar home around the block was murdered. Third home had a teen registered sexual felon across the main road, my neighbor sent her five year old over to play with the siblings without checking any databases, because who wants to be that paranoid mom who won’t let her kid play in the neighborhood?

    My husband’s parents still live where he grew up — very, very nice lesbian couple now lives next door; sexual offender down the street (he was there before); meth houses popped up in the blocks around them a few times (they like to rent, trash the house, and leave). In his youth, he smacked into several cars riding his bike without a helmet. None of them were huge SUVs driving 45, they were little Pontiac hatchbacks or something doing 30.

    It’s a loss that our kids can’t live the way that you did, and we certainly need to not destroy our children in the process of trying to save them, or enslave them to a nanny state or nanny neighborhood. But we can’t just say, “Do it the way we used to do it”.

    Every generation has its troubles and dangers. I don’t watch my kids for polio. But I bet my kids know a lot more kids with Type 1 diabetes than you did. It’s a good warning, not to protect our kids to death. But it’s more complicated than just saying moms should open the doors and shoo them out, like they did 60 years ago.

  8. Leaving a child alone in a park, driving distance from home, is a bit of a stretch. But leaving a nine year old along at home during the daylight… I was left in charge of younger siblings for a few hours at age nine. Mom paid me 35 cents an hour for it too. After dark… not until I was 14. My sister and I have joked that mom would be arrested for that today.

    What if the girl lived two blocks from the park, stayed at home part of the morning, then walked to the park for a few hours, then walked back home? I did that all the time at age nine, and my parents were not particularly counting on other adults to watch out for me. My sympathies lie with letting the parents and the kids work it out. Kids playing by themselves within a few blocks of home, or even riding their bikes two miles to the library and back, is not “child endangerment.”

    I personally know a family where a single mother got a job at Family Dollar, had her kids hanging out in the store or the parking lot while she worked, and finally got the paperwork back qualifying her for child care, a week after she was fired for having her kids hanging around at the store. It seems one things “liberals” and “conservatives” have in common is a comprehensive blind spot to how much work it takes to raise children. If mom is told to go to work, and if child care is not provided, and if the entry-level job doesn’t pay enough to afford it… then who is going to be raising the kids? Ditto for the economic liberalism of upping productivity by incorporating women into the work force. Women have a lot to contribute to the work force. But, raising children takes a lot of time and effort. Who is going to do that? When? Where? How?

    The minimum in the Harrell case, is the police should have given mom a citation, at most, told her she can’t leave a kid on her own out of the house for 8-9 hours straight, and connected her with someone who WOULD work out a way to get child care.

    Of course my “welfare to work” plan is to hire all the chronically unemployed to build high speed rail systems, municipal and inter-city, including training some to run day care for the children of those working on other aspects of the program, and then offer the displaced social workers jobs laying track.

    • Siarlys,

      Again, when I babysat at a young age I always had a list of neighbors’ phone numbers because if there were an emergency, someone would probably be home that could help. Most neighborhoods that’s no longer the case. Also rode to the library, and to school, great memories — but never had a guy in a pickup pull up next to me asking me to get in the car (happens several times a year, every year around here).

      I am so with you on welfare, though. I am staunchly conservative but I wish conservative leaders would get their heads out of their rhetoric on this one. The best way to make welfare and intergenerational reality is to remove “welfare moms” from the home.

  9. Marie, neighborhoods vary, but I don’t buy the notion that life is far more dangerous than it used to be. Hazards are far more publicized than they used to be, and the rare fatal tragedy that used to be local or in-state regional news is now flashed all over the country, so we hear about more events more often. We got the usual warnings about not getting into cars with strangers when I was in first grade. There was a rumor going around about a guy in a flashy red convertible, and I was determined to hit him with my flimsy plastic baseball bat if he tried to nab me and my friends. If any danger is sharply up, it is that with so many kids getting picked up after school, the safety in numbers of dozens of kids walking the streets leading away from school on their way home is absent.

    But assuming things are more dangerous… a common failing of liberal and conservative politicians is to pass stringent laws establishing standards that, all other things being equal, are perfectly desirable, without looking at the total context parents (or whoever) must deal with, and committing real resources to make compliance feasible.

    I also find no basis to make it a matter of law that any parent allowing their child to run out and play within a 2-3 block radius of home is criminally neglectful.

  10. Marie and Siarlys,

    Great exchange–thanks for having it here on the blog. A couple of thoughts:

    Every generation has its troubles and dangers. I don’t watch my kids for polio. But I bet my kids know a lot more kids with Type 1 diabetes than you did. It’s a good warning, not to protect our kids to death. But it’s more complicated than just saying moms should open the doors and shoo them out, like they did 60 years ago.

    This is certainly true–if my wife and I were to sit down and think about it, there’s no doubt in my mind that we’d discover any number of small, seemingly inconsequential, but perhaps actually rather important rules and expectations of our own which we set down and that we’ve impressed upon our children to help them navigate the world they are growing up in. (Okay, here’s one which just occurred to me: the way we make sure they know our phone numbers and address, and the phone number and addresses of others they could contact if we couldn’t be reached, at a young age. Somehow I doubt that having memorized a three or four potential contacts was all that important to the kids of 1940, leaving the house for a picnic and a day of exploring, pulling their wagon behind them.) But keep in mind, of course, that the reverse is also true: very likely our parents and grandparents (and us Generation Xers who walked to school alone as well!) all had their own “complications” that were kept in mind as they went out to play, complications which were so obvious that it’s hard to remember them explicitly when stories of the “good old days” are shared later on–as, of course, I’ve done here. So maybe we could say that there were a complicated set of unspoken rules then, and that what we’re missing now is a similar set of complicated, unspoken rules, in the place of folks just throwing up their hands when they see some kids down in the gully trying to light a fire with a magnifying glass and calling the cops.

    It seems one things “liberals” and “conservatives” have in common is a comprehensive blind spot to how much work it takes to raise children. If mom is told to go to work, and if child care is not provided, and if the entry-level job doesn’t pay enough to afford it… then who is going to be raising the kids? Ditto for the economic liberalism of upping productivity by incorporating women into the work force. Women have a lot to contribute to the work force. But, raising children takes a lot of time and effort. Who is going to do that? When? Where? How?

    Well, it takes a village to raise a child–and I don’t say that at all facetiously. Clinton wrote a good book, way back then, and the principles in that book were even better. In a world where we have, for better and for worse, taken away the sort of restrictions and stigmatizing that at one time that kept families dependent upon one income alone, we need to adjust our thinking about work and family so that our childrens’ abilities to grow up in contexts of trust and (at least a minimal level of) security are not being interfered with by what we parents, in our neighborhoods and families and churches and communities, need to do to pay the rent.

    Of course my “welfare to work” plan is to hire all the chronically unemployed to build high speed rail systems, municipal and inter-city, including training some to run day care for the children of those working on other aspects of the program, and then offer the displaced social workers jobs laying track.

    And of course, as always, Siarlys, you have my vote.

    I wish conservative leaders would get their heads out of their rhetoric on this one. The best way to make welfare and intergenerational reality is to remove “welfare moms” from the home.

    I think I probably agree with you, Marie, but just to be clear: what you meant to write is “the best way to make welfare an intergenerational reality,” correct? In which case, I couldn’t support you more. I don’t deny that there is something important to be said for work requirements for welfare benefits and that many of the consequences for the Clinton-era welfare reforms has been a change for the better in many areas of urban poverty…but by and large, I think the result of forcing more and more children into day care or social services while their single mothers desperately try to earn a dollar has been more and more broken families, more and more kids in prison, and fewer and fewer people capable of providing the “context of permanency” which we’ve been talking about here.

    • Siarlys,

      I appreciate your point that national media coverage skews our perception of risk, but I don’t base my decision to be in the vicinity when my kids are out on Elizabeth Smart’s case. My husband and I have moved to several different places to try to find a “free range” our kids can roam in. We haven’t found it, though we’ve gotten closer.

      Keep in mind that half of all American kids have been sexually active by the time they are 15. In your average American neighborhood today if you let a dozen kids run about the neighborhood, chances are good one of them has been sexually abused, and may pass that on. But even if you discount that, I can certainly tell you that on average one of those kids will have watched sexually explicit TV content. I had a six year old when I was teaching an after school program who wanted to act out behavior he saw there, he had no idea what he was doing.

      I respect that other parents may assess benefit and risk differently and feel that the kids need to be out of parenting range in order to make their own decisions unimpeded. Law needs to reflect that there are many different ways parents try to take care of their children and not impose one way — true cases of abuse (e.g. beating with damage) and neglect (e.g. starving) always aside.

      But I’d ask that you understand that my experience may differ from yours and so my judgment may, and that doesn’t make me a control freak or a bad mom (I’m those things for entirely different reasons!). For example, all those pleasant childhood memories you note I share, but I also know of many people — in real life, not in the news — that even then didn’t have such good experiences. I think in past decades we (reasonably) had a higher degree of privacy, which is good, but which means that if we played in the neighborhood with a dozen kids and half of them had bad experiences, we might have never known. I remember trying to warn my friends about a teen who had pulled me aside when I was playing with other kids at an empty lot. They didn’t want to hear it, the parents didn’t want to hear it, my mother’s point of view was to not talk about it. Looking back, I have no idea if the situation was ever addressed in any way. Did this devastate me? No, and I don’t keep my kids locked up because of it. But when my kids are young, I let them freely play but I make sure they know I’m near if they need me. I also make sure I’m present enough that anyone with suspect intentions will go elsewhere because he’ll know I’m a possible block or witness.

      I don’t think things are more dangerous today. I just think things are different, and we have to approach them differently.

      But that’s my only disagreement.

      Kids getting picked up making the neighborhood less safe — you’re totally right.

      Families not getting support and actively being ripped apart by both sides — you’re totally right.

      Kids need to not be slaves to parental fear — completely right.

  11. Russell,

    Good grief, yes, that’s what I meant. My typing skills are degrading in my old age! Thanks. Yes to that whole section on welfare, the best examples are the moms in the middle of the Great Recession that couldn’t get jobs because there weren’t any and couldn’t get child support because the fathers worked off the books, they had to put their kids into government paid for day care so they could go take elementary classes on interviewing and writing resumes, on the government dime. Some of these were women with decades of professional experience, but those were the rules if you wanted help paying your rent.

    I think you’re on target about the rules, and the past. There’s a great book called “Growing Up With The Country” about kids crossing to the West with their parents, super interesting. Young boys riding ahead to shoot the snakes. There’s also an interesting Jared Steel theory about parenting in different cultures. His idea, as I understand it, is that Westerners see young folks from traditional cultures taking on such responsibility with so much grace, young kids being shepherds, etc. This is because from an early age the kids are left to make their own mistakes, to the degree that in some cultures most people have at least one burn from crawling too close to the fire. The down side, of course, is that you have a lot of toddlers burned, and not a few die. Same theme was in the “Country” book, these kids were amazing assets and the parents loved them deeply but didn’t supervise them like we do today. This made them extraordinary people sometimes, but it also meant a bunch of them never got to be adults.

    It’s an interesting balance and we all have to decide what loss in maturity and in freedom and joy we are willing to take for what degree of safety. Unfortunately, the particular evils rampant in the modern world mean the hazards our kids face aren’t necessarily going to be ones that mature them if they live through them, and kids given freedom in their childhood who have certain bad experiences may find they spend their adulthood with diminished joy and a besieged perspective on the world.

  12. There is a big difference between a couple of kids exploring a different environment in their neighborhood ( something the police officer should have been seriously upbraided for questioning) and a kid being dropped off at a playground for a day of babysitting despite the circumstances.

    The desperation of a mother dropping their young child off at a playground before going off to work is something hard to fathom but it exists and should be spoken of. If we actually possessed a civil society and a civilization instead of a “buying public” this would not be an issue.

  13. D.W.,

    If we actually possessed a civil society and a civilization instead of a “buying public” this would not be an issue.

    I agree fully with your concluding point. I don’t think anyone–including the mother herself–has ever suggested that they were fully defensive, much less celebratory, of her choice, but what we see here is a combination of a (mostly) unwarranted suspicion of an unsupervised 9-year-old, with the tragedy that the mother, faced with the imperative that she work whatever low-paying, unflexible-hours job she could fine, had no other or didn’t have the ability to make use of any other child-care option. Thus have austerity measures and low wages done their bit to perhaps create jobs, but also to put some poor families into ridiculous binds along the way.

  14. I don’t know what your beef is. This is similar to the muslim tax when boarding a plane. Frisking white middle class grandmothers and 5-year-olds and confiscating jars of peanut butter is the norm – from now on. So, treating you and your wife like low-trust 3rd world people is just and proper. Otherwise, if there were to be disparate impact (blacks treated unfairly), well, that’s racist and cannot be tolerated. In fact, you are rather lucky to have gotten off so easily. So quit complaining and be grateful.

  15. Law needs to reflect that there are many different ways parents try to take care of their children and not impose one way — true cases of abuse (e.g. beating with damage) and neglect (e.g. starving) always aside.

    I agree, totally.

    I have to disagree on Hillary Clinton’s book. She seemed to posit that in the modern world, government IS the village it takes to raise a child. It is not. I’m more of a Toquevillean voluntarist when it comes to defining the village. Bob Dole was equally wrong when he said at the Republican convention in 1996, “it doesn’t take a village to raise a child, it takes a family to raise a child.” It takes both. Government can help create and sustain the infrastructure that fosters both, but neither is, per se, a creature of government.

    As to IA, I don’t support treating anyone that way because they’re black, any more than I support treating me or Russell or Marie that way. So were you joking about the jizya, or is there some other tax you had in mind? 🙂

  16. Siarlys,

    I have to disagree on Hillary Clinton’s book. She seemed to posit that in the modern world, government IS the village it takes to raise a child. It is not. I’m more of a Toquevillean voluntarist when it comes to defining the village….Government can help create and sustain the infrastructure that fosters both, but neither is, per se, a creature of government.

    It’s been a long time since I read that book, but I remember it as arguing more than the government is an enabling tool–the agency through which democratic communities (which means, well, ourselves) collective act to take care of one another–. Obviously there is a huge range of implications that rather banal statement might give rise to, and many of those implications point towards all sorts of legitimate criticisms of the state. But, looking at the argument simply as a generality, I don’t really remember anything Clinton said in that book as denying Tocquevillian voluntarism or your concluding point, but rather supplementing it. (Other readers, more anxious to stamp any and all creeping socialism, saw it differently, of course.)

    • My only memory of the Clinton book was that she wanted the U.S. to emulate France more in pushing the age of universal eduction well down; and that she thought it might be a neat idea to have parenting videos shown while people waited at the DMV.

      The irony of having the government tell people how to parent at, of all places, the DMV makes me laugh even now.

  17. My only knowledge of French education is that when I took French in junior high school, our teacher told us that in France, the minister of education can look at the clock and know exactly what is being taught in every classroom in every grade in every school everywhere in France at that moment. It made us all feel good about living in the diverse chaos of the United States where nobody could tell anything of the kind at any hour of the day.

    • Great, let’s get rid of the dept. of education. Why do we need it? While we’re at it let’s think of government as the last resort, not the first. Fat chance.

    • Also, I’d like to point out that the people who can’t afford it settle for “diversity.” Just like Obama’s children, who have NEVER gone to a public school, those who have the bucks will end up at Sidwell Friends ($3000/year) and +90% white.

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