"You know, I’d really had a nightmare about this, but I didn’t realize they would do it. I didn’t think they would. The kids must be terrified.” So exclaimed Danielle Meitiv of Silver Spring, Maryland, to free-range-parenting godmother Lenore Skenazy. The “they” in this case are the authorities—police officers and child protective services workers—who, for all intents and purposes, kidnapped the Meitiv children on their way home from the park on a clear Sunday afternoon in April.
The police picked up the kids, assuring them they’d be driven home. The children were two and a half blocks from their house and knew exactly where they were and how to get home. Instead, police kept them in the back seat of the cruiser for several hours, without allowing the kids to call home or themselves calling the parents to alert them. The children were transferred to the nearest Child Protective Services Crisis Center, and after another couple of hours the parents were finally notified. The Meitivs rushed over to the center at 11 p.m. and were reunited with their son and daughter.
Mrs. Meitiv was especially scared because this was not the first time her children had been picked up by police. When it happened last December, they were brought home, but subsequently the parents were charged by Child Protective Services, the children were interviewed without their parents, and mom and dad were found responsible for “unsubstantiated child neglect.” Considering the dozens of parents across the nation who have had much worse brought upon them for allowing their children to be outside unattended—arrests, foster care, probation, huge legal bills—the Meitivs’ sentence was on the light side.
Earlier, the Meitivs were defiant, publicly declaring they would not stop permitting their kids a measure of independence. “Allowing kids to be Free-Range is critical for their development. In spite of this ruling, we will continue to let our kids roam (they’re at the park right now!),” Mrs. Meitiv declared in March. “The best way to make sure it doesn’t happen is to make Free-Ranging as common as it was when we were kids,” she told Reason magazine. When their kids were kidnapped in April, the Meitivs realized that changing the culture isn’t nearly as urgent as changing the law.
Skenazy, the author of Free-Range Kids, agrees. “I think we all are beginning to understand just how insane, paranoid, and vindictive the state can be when it comes to respecting human rights—in this case, the right of parents who love their kids to raise them the way they see fit.” After working for years to change the overly anxious parenting culture, Skenazy has now written a free-range parents’ bill of rights. She wants every state to revisit its child protection laws. “Children have the right to some unsupervised time, and parents have the right to give it to them without getting arrested,” her bill of rights reads in part.
These activists may be in for a long struggle. Not many years ago, another group of parents was horribly treated by the state—criminalized, in fact—and had to spend copious amounts of time and money to fight the law and reestablish their parental authority. It took years, but the good news is that they won big. They were the pioneers of home-schooling, and as a result of their work, what was once a fringe effort involving a handful of families is now legal in all 50 states, and the number of children schooled at home has risen from 10,000 in the early 1980s to possibly as high as 2.5 million today.
Stephen Arons’s description from his 1981 report “Public Orthodoxy, Public Dissent: The Culture of American Schooling” sounds eerily familiar to those caught in the current free-range fight: