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SILVER SPRING, Maryland — A couple is under fire for allowing their children to walk home from a neighborhood park unsupervised, something they argue was a common childhood occurrence just a generation ago.
Alexander and Danielle Meitiv stand by the belief that children should be allowed to navigate the world and develop independence from an early age, according to the Washington Post. The way they see it, allowing their two children — 10-year-old Rafi and 6-year-old Dvora — to walk around the neighborhood together is a sign of trust and confidence.
“The world is actually even safer than when I was a child, and I just want to give them the same freedom and independence that I had — basically an old-fashioned childhood,” Danielle Meitiv told the Post. “I think it’s absolutely critical for their development — to learn responsibility, to experience the world, to gain confidence and competency.”
Theirs is the school known as “free-range” parenting. It’s a movement inspired by a NYC mother of two who made waves in 2008 by admitting in a newspaper column that she allowed her then-9-year-old son to ride the subway alone, according to the New York Sun.
Free-range parenting is about empowering children through independence and experience, according to Free Range Kids. It’s the antithesis of so-called “helicopter parenting,” which involves parents hovering over every aspect of their child’s life in an effort to keep them safe.
Local authorities, however, disagree with the Meitivs’ parenting philosophy. In October, someone phoned in an anonymous tip to police about the Meitiv children, who were playing alone in a park a few blocks from their home, according to Today Parents. A few days later, a child protective services worker showed up at their house and warned them they were breaking state law by leaving their children unsupervised.
The case was soon dropped after a challenge by Danielle Meitiv, who pointed out the law only applied to kids left unattended at home or in a car, according to Today.
But their troubles were far from over. The week before Christmas, Alexander Meitiv dropped the kids at a park about a mile from their home. The kids began their walk back to the house but only made it about halfway before police officers picked them up and insisted on escorting them home, the Post reported.
“(Alexander) was shocked,” Danielle Meitiv told Today. “He sees three police officers with our kids. They didn’t really explain what was going on so it was kind of uncomfortable. They asked for ID. He said he felt they were really aggressive.”
Following a tense exchange between officers and Alexander Meitiv — during which the Meitivs claim Ravi called his mother in tears, fearful that his father would be arrested — another CPS worker showed up at their home with a “safety plan” that the couple was told they must sign or risk losing their children, Today reported.
The same social worker made a surprise visit to the kids’ school, and then showed up at their home again last week, where the Meitivs claimed he scared the children with “untrue” scenarios.
“He asked things like, ‘What would you do if someone grabbed you? The world’s a scary place and there are creeps out there who want to get you,’” Danielle Meitiv said.
The world is actually even safer than when I was a child, and I just want to give them the same freedom and independence that I had — basically an old-fashioned childhood. I think it's absolutely critical for their development — to learn responsibility, to experience the world, to gain confidence and competency.
The Meitiv family's story has grabbed the nation's attention. Danielle Meitiv has appeared on several TV news programs, defending her parenting philosophy.
"We're amazed this has become a national conversation because we're just doing what our parents did or [what] was considered perfectly normal just one generation ago,'' she told NBC earlier this week. "I think what's really unfortunate is that we're really overestimating the danger and underestimating our children."
Some experts seem to side with the Meitivs’ idea that the world is just as safe as it was several decades ago, when children roaming the neighborhood was a norm, not a crime.
“The actual rate of strangers abducting or molesting children is very small,” Peter Gray, a research psychologist at Boston College, told the New York Times. “It’s more likely to happen at the hands of a relative or family friend. The statistics show no increase in childhood dangers. If anything, there’s been a decrease.”
Gray goes so far as to link the rise in childhood depression and anxiety disorders — which are eight times more common today than they were in the 1950s — to a significant decline in unstructured play, according to the New York Times.
The Meitivs hope to get the latest case against them dismissed quickly, according to Today. But Danielle Meitiv will not apologize for allowing her children to do something she believes will ultimately empower them to take charge of their own safety.
"Frankly, we’re not going to change our parenting because we don’t think we’re breaking the law. We think overprotecting our children is actually more harmful," she said.