It Takes a Village … to Arrest Parents for No Reason

by | Apr 28, 2015

By what standard of rationality or fairness do we look at society as a “village” where some members may impose their will on other members regarding matters of raising children?

The society we live in just keeps getting crazier and crazier.

Read the following from Slate.com 4/21/15:

The Meitiv family of Maryland—scientists Danielle and Alexander, their 10-year-old son, and their 6-year-old daughter—became the national faces of the “free-range parenting” movement in December. That’s when police, acting on an anonymous call, picked up the kids as they walked home alone from a park in Silver Spring, resulting in a Child Protective Services investigation and a finding of “unsubstantiated” child neglect. It wasn’t the first time that a neighbor had called the authorities about the children playing on their own. Voluminous media coverage followed, peaking with a trip to the Today show.

The Meitivs were back in the news last week when the kids landed in the back of a police car again. “Two Children Walk Unattended; Neighbors Lose Their Minds,” read a typical headline. Free-range advocate Lenore Skenazy painted the Meitivs’ neighbors as “busybodies,” and in the Washington Post, Petula Dvorak held up the Meitivs’ ordeal as proof that “we’ve morphed from being a village that helps raise children to a parenting police state,” speculating that whoever called the police on the Meitivs “wanted to get back at them” for their free-range advocacy. “If that adult who called police was worried about the kids,” Dvorak asked, “why not talk to them?”

How many things are wrong with this situation? It’s difficult to know where to start.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing: There’s a mentality in Silver Spring, MD — and elsewhere — which actually thinks the government can do anything about this, whether you consider it a problem, or not.

In the opinion of the person who called the police on these parents, “Somebody has got to do something.” Do what, exactly? Will the government send officials into this family’s home and set new rules for both the parents and children? Is this the government’s responsibility? What have government officials at any level done to inspire such confidence? Has the performance of public schools and government medical programs been so stellar that anyone thinks proper parenting can best be actualized by government authorities?

The other issue standing out here: Why did the police even respond? Why were the neighbors who “lost their minds” at the sight of two children walking unattended not laughed at when they called the police? In the 1970s, or as recently as the 1990s or even early 2000s, this would have been the police response.

You can gripe about police. But police, by and large, are simply doing what they’re told by their supervisors — who in turn answer to the politicians, who in turn answer to the people. America is indeed becoming a police state; but it’s the mentality of the people who called the police in this situation we’re letting overrun us with government.

What has gone wrong in the minds of most people, or at least some people, that we have reached such a point?

Petula Dvorak, the individual mentioned in this story, made two comments that get to the heart of the issue.

One: We’ve morphed from being a village that helps raise children to a parenting police state. True. But we must all check our premises here. By what standard of rationality or fairness do we look at society as a “village” where some members may impose their will on other members regarding matters of raising children? It’s this village idea, in theory, that ultimately leads to the police state, in practice. Because once you consider children property of the state — as much or more than the legal responsibility of their parents — then you have exactly what we’re now seeing.

It’s true that children have individual rights. They should not be exposed to carefully and objectively defined physical abuse, physical neglect or sexual molestation. It’s right for the law to step in when such crimes are reasonably suspected, or committed. This is something government can do — and should attempt to do, although we all know that it usually does not do so well. But even in these situations, there’s supposed to be due process of law. You can’t call the police when accusing a neighbor you dislike of sexually abusing his or her child, and expect to be instantly believed, with that parent walking away in handcuffs.

Any decent person would contact the authorities when a child is known to be suffering from imminent physical danger (including sexual abuse). But this is only because such danger can threaten, end or perhaps even ruin a child’s later life (in the case of sexual abuse). But to expect the police to get involved with matters of bedtime, age-appropriate walk locations or anything else is beyond absurd. Something has gone seriously and deeply wrong in a culture where the majority of us bow our heads in humility, and let these self-anointed, manic busybodies bully us in this way.

Let me put it simply: Bullies like government and police — when those authorities do their bidding. Every parent is the potential victim of these bullies, and it does nothing to protect the well-being of children who are really in trouble.

It all starts with the corrupt idea of “the village,” in the first place. In a village — or tribal — mentality, all adults are considered to have an equal right or say in how the child is raised. In practice, this ends up meaning the government. In literal day-to-day life, this means the police. The “crazy” neighbors who called the police on these parents are acting on the village premise. On such a premise, children belong not to their parents (within the margin of their physical, individual rights) — but to society as a whole. Meaning: the government.

People who consider this a good thing are more numerous than you may think. That’s how we have reached a point where when someone calls the police for such an idiotic reason, they are taken seriously. Now parents of six- and ten-year-olds everywhere must beware. They could be arrested on a moment’s notice.

Two: “If that adult who called police was worried about the kids,” Dvorak asked, “why not talk to them?” Precisely. We live in an age where reason is on the decline. Children are taught how to conform, not to think. Children grow up to depend less on their own rational, self-responsible judgment and more on the will of the society, the tribe, or the group — which in practice, once again, ends up meaning the police.

It starts with a lack of rationality and it ends up with everyone in handcuffs — whether they’re axe murderers or they allow their ten-year-old to walk unattended in a park on a bright sunny day. Suddenly, everything is a crime, and all crimes are treated the same, as there are no rational degrees or standards in an era dominated by emotions.

In a culture and era dominated by reason, it would be obvious to investigate facts before rushing to call the police. At the worst, overreacting might mean calling Child Protective Services, and having it calmly explained that this agency is for investigation of probable sexual or physical abuse, or physical neglect — not bedtimes or walks in the park.

By the way, in making a judgment about another’s parenting (or anything else) you have to objectively weigh all the relevant facts in their full context. That means investigating and asking questions. A proper government would do this in the case of suspected physical/sexual abuse or physical neglect. Beyond these concerns, a government should not be involved in the process of parenting in the first place. The faddish label “free range parenting” is meaningless, particularly when it’s used as a means of equating insignificant and entirely debatable concerns, as in the Silver Spring MD example, with outright, objective abuse or neglect.

Starting with the children, and asking them what’s going on, where they live, and so forth would be preferable to calling the police. But then again, if you’re a fanatical busybody, at least in this part of Maryland, it’s easy to get the police to listen to you. The police are probably told by their bosses, who in turn respond to the politicians and the people, that it will offend somebody somewhere if the government doesn’t “do something” — and now! They have to be seen as doing something, so that the busybodies can feel virtuous and moral about themselves.

In the meantime, social stability and rationality — including any hope of serenity for decent parents — are torn to pieces.

Dr. Michael Hurd is a psychotherapist, columnist and author of "Bad Therapy, Good Therapy (And How to Tell the Difference)" and "Grow Up America!" Visit his website at: www.DrHurd.com.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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