Mother jailed for letting her daughter play unsupervised in a park
Is this the kind of America you want to live in?
A South Carolina mother is in jail because she allowed her 9 year old daughter to play in a park - unsupervised.
Hours at a time? At a park? In the summer? Gosh! That certainly sounds normal and fun like a reason to throw a mom in jail—and place the child in state custody.
Here are the facts: Debra Harrell works at McDonald's in North Augusta, South Carolina. For most of the summer, her daughter had stayed there with her, playing on a laptop that Harrell had scrounged up the money to purchase. (McDonald's has free WiFi.) Sadly, the Harrell home was robbed and the laptop stolen, so the girl asked her mother if she could be dropped off at the park to play instead.
Harrell said yes. She gave her daughter a cell phone. The girl went to the park—a place so popular that at any given time there are about 40 kids frolicking—two days in a row. There were swings, a "splash pad," and shade. On her third day at the park, an adult asked the girl where her mother was. At work, the daughter replied.
The shocked adult called the cops. Authorities declared the girl "abandoned" and proceeded to arrest the mother.
Watch the news: It sounds like Debra Harrell committed a serious, unconscionable crime. The reporter looks ready to burst with contempt. But what are the facts? She let her daughter play at the park for several hours at a time—like we did as kids. She gave her a daughter a phone if she needed to call. Any "danger" was not only theoretical, it was exceedingly unlikely.
But, "What if a man would've come and snatched her?" said a woman interviewed by the TV station.
To which I must ask: In broad daylight? In a crowded park? Just because something happened on Law & Order doesn't mean it's happening all the time in real life. Make "what if?" thinking the basis for an arrest and the cops can collar anyone. "You let your son play in the front yard? What if a man drove up and kidnapped him?" "You let your daughter sleep in her own room? What if a man climbed through the window?" etc.
These fears pop into our brains so easily, they seem almost real. But they're not. Our crime rate today is back to what it was when gas was 29 cents a gallon, according to The Christian Science Monitor. It may feel like kids are in constant danger, but they are as safe (if not safer) than we were when our parents let us enjoy the summer outside, on our own, without fear of being arrested.
The fear that our children are at risk is real. It's the danger that is overblown. When I was 9 years old, my friends and I would meet at a park about 3 blocks from my house and play baseball all day - from 9 in the AM until 5. In the fall we'd play football. The thought that we needed parental supervision never crossed our minds.
Today, we have become a nation of "Helicopter Parents," hovering over our children, planning their day down to the minute. We tell them when to be creative, when to be serious, and when they are allowed to run around and play. We obsess about our parenting skills; it's all about me. Am I doing it right? What more could I be doing to raise my child correctly?
Our children are growing up less independent than previous generations. We are cocooning them to protect them from horrible things like thinking creatively on their own, or participating in competitive endeavors where there's a chance they will lose. No one knows what kind of adults these kids will make, but if college campuses are any indication, these helicopter children are becoming scared, timid, dependent adults who don't know what to do if things aren't going 100% their way.
I think of Charles Adams going abroad with his father John to Paris at the age of 9. He went to school on the continent and then returned to America later that year by himself. I wonder how many parents today would let their 9 year old kid travel alone around Europe and then take passage back to America by themselves.