FREE-RANGE VICTORY! Charges Dropped Against Dad Who Let His Kids Play in the Park — THANKS TO US!

Readers — This is so incredible! Remember  this post from a few months ago?

As we approach our third annual, “Take Our Children to the Park…And Leave Them There Day” (Saturday, May 19), this story is outrageous. Apparently a dad let his two kids, ages 6 and 9, play in a local suburban Pittsburgh park on Saturday morning for not quite two hours while he did some shopping and took a shower. That is, while he went about the tasks of everyday life.

Meantime, a woman noticed this unusual thing: Kids playing without an adult around! That this fact was “disturbing” to an onlooker is what is so disturbing about our culture. For millennia, kids kept themselves occupied while their parents were otherwise engaged. A 9-year-old watching a 6-year-old was NORMAL, not a REASON TO CALL THE COPS.

But call the cops she did. And when they got there, they charged the dad with two counts of child endangerment.

Okay, here’s the first comment (of 168) made to that post, which apparently set the template for action:

First time I’ve created an account on one of these random sites you link to and posted a comment. Stuff like this just really irks me. The busybody who freaked out is the real problem in this scenario. I’m guessing all real crime in that city has been solved and there’s no real child endangerment going on so the cops need to invent some?

And now? The authorities have DROPPED the charges again the dad (after he took some parenting classes). HOW COME? Well, according to the Chartiers Valley Patch:

The child endangerment charges created a firestorm on the Chartiers Valley Patch message boardafter a group called Free Range Kids linked to the story and several members criticized the police officer’s decision to file charges.

I’m so proud of everyone who took the time to write a message over there and explain that while people may THINK kids are in constant danger when they’re unsupervised, that’s a misperception, and no one should be considered negligent for not buying into it. Too bad about the parenting classes they guy had to take, but otherwise: WOW WOW WOW! — Lenore

Maybe this kind of fun is to be encouraged, not prosecuted!

42 Responses to FREE-RANGE VICTORY! Charges Dropped Against Dad Who Let His Kids Play in the Park — THANKS TO US!

  1. Gene August 17, 2012 at 12:49 am #

    Wow, people do have a voice only – and it matters! This is great!

  2. Gene August 17, 2012 at 12:50 am #

    online*

  3. Wally Hartshorn August 17, 2012 at 1:08 am #

    I’m not so sure this is a victory, Lenore. Can the guy leave his kids alone at the park now? Or will he be charged again if he does so? Basically it just sounds like they’re saying ‘He took classes and now knows never to do that again, so we won’t prosecute him.’

  4. Jon Daley August 17, 2012 at 1:13 am #

    That’s great. Hopefully I won’t need to contact you guys for a similar story in the scary Concord, NH, where “children get abducted all the time”, so says the police officer who responded to my kids being left by themselves for 15 minutes in a parking lot (windows open).

    The officer was concerned that the three children would be abducted, or thrown out of the car and the car stolen, or my four year old choking on a cherry pit. “It’s unbelievable that you would let a four year eat a cherry unsupervised”.

  5. Chihiro August 17, 2012 at 1:41 am #

    I agree with Wally. It appears that the police basically said, “Okay, we’ll let you go this time, but we better not catch you doing that again!”
    I wouldn’t call that a victory. I’m happy that the dad got away without getting sued, but no one has acknowledged that the kids were not in harm’s way.
    On a side note, it still blows my mind that people thought a NINE-YEAR-OLD wasn’t capable of looking after his or her brother or sister. Seriously? You can babysit at nine. Heck, my older brother started babysitting me when he was seven! (Though he was a very responsible seven-year-old. Plus my father is a bit nuts, so I don’t expect anyone else to act like this.)

  6. Jynet August 17, 2012 at 2:27 am #

    This was my thought too :(
    ———————————

    Wally Hartshorn, on August 17, 2012 at 01:08 said:
    I’m not so sure this is a victory, Lenore. Can the guy leave his kids alone at the park now? Or will he be charged again if he does so? Basically it just sounds like they’re saying ‘He took classes and now knows never to do that again, so we won’t prosecute him.’

  7. Tom H. August 17, 2012 at 2:38 am #

    Chihiro: I believe in some US states it’s illegal for a 9-year-old to babysit. My current state of residence doesn’t have a hard limit, but various blog articles claim Maryland requires the child to be 12 or 13. The lack of a hard limit isn’t actually helpful, in many ways.

  8. Havva August 17, 2012 at 3:05 am #

    @ Tom H. Montgomery county points to state CPS indicating 13 for a babysitter.

    “Maryland Child Protective Services Procedures (SSA95-13) define an “unattended child” as:

    A child under eight left alone or in the care of a person who is not reliable or who is under 13.”

    http://www6.montgomerycountymd.gov/content/frs-safe/resources/laws/childcare.asp

    Virginia appears to be the same.
    http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/dfs/childrenyouth/supervision_eng.htm

  9. Mike Jones August 17, 2012 at 3:32 am #

    The police dropped the charges because the father agreed to go to parenting classes. I’m not sure if the Free Range Kids reaction to that story had anything to do with the agreement between the father and police. Maybe it did? Read the full story here… http://chartiersvalley.patch.com/articles/charges-dropped-against-dad-who-left-kids-at-scott-park-to-shower

  10. Donna August 17, 2012 at 3:37 am #

    I’m not sure this should be considered a victory. The guy clearly took part in a pretrial diversion program. Basically, he and the prosecutor agreed that if he does certain things successfully the charges will be dropped. They are very common in misdemeanors. I have clients who entered into these types of agreements all the time. This in no way, shape or form means that the cops, DA and judges believe that this man did nothing wrong. They simply don’t believe that he needs to be formally prosecuted and/or go to jail. He is completely expected to NEVER EVER EVER leave his kids alone in the park again as part of this arrangement.

    In other words, it is still 100% illegal to leave 6 and 9 year olds at a park alone in Chartiers Valley. You are not going to go to prison for it. But you are subject to being arrested and put through a pretrial diversion program. If THIS man were to leave his kids again, he would be again arrested and this time prosecuted.

  11. Mike Jones August 17, 2012 at 3:46 am #

    @Donna… I think your assessment is spot on. Although we may never know how the magistrate would’ve ruled because it never got to him. He might have ruled in favor of the father and dismissed the charges. Who knows?

  12. Stephanie August 17, 2012 at 3:59 am #

    This is completely separate from your post, but I am SO annoyed by the comment from this Slate article – http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2012/08/16/united_airlines_loses_10_year_old_girl_enters_social_media_hell.html – on United Airlines losing a 10-year-old daughter. The girl seemed to do everything she could have, but United dropped the ball (after being paid for the privilege of accompanying the girl to her gate). Of course the comments are blaming the parents for not having given her a cell phone:

    “To think that parents with enough money to send their child to an out-of-state camp have so little responsibility and time available that they would send their child unaccompanied on ANY commercial airline would dare to question anyone else, well that’s amazing.

    It should be illegal for children under the age of 16 to fly alone, period.”

    Illegal for kids under 16?! That’s ridiculous. I flew by myself starting when I was 6. The first time was a little scary, for about the first 10 minutes, but then I read books and sat quietly for the 4 hour + flight from San Diego to Detroit. My grandparents were waiting for me at the gate when we arrived. I fully intend to send my two daughters (ages 3 and 5 months, currently) to my parents’ and in-laws’ homes when they’re a few years older. I loved staying with my grandparents, and I loved flying by myself. It irks me to think that people really believe children can’t fly by themselves until they’re 16.

  13. Hugo Cunningham August 17, 2012 at 4:03 am #

    It was a *partial* victory for FRK. The article strongly suggests that if FRK people had not injected rationality into Chartiers Valley coverage, the father would have been treated worse.

  14. James August 17, 2012 at 4:32 am #

    That is wonderful to hear. I hope Free Range Kids are more effective at preventing innocent people from going to jail for now on.

  15. Manisha August 17, 2012 at 4:34 am #

    I can’t help but wonder how much of this had to do with the father’s ethnic background; I gather that he is of South Asian descent from the name. I wonder this because the stories I’ve heard on the news here in MN always involve parents of color who (1) may have different standards of how to raise a child and (2) are more closely watched for suspect behavior. I myself get a lot of passive-aggressive criticism from playground moms when I don’t respond immediately to my child. While other white moms are praised for raising seemingly independent children. When my child is in bed for the night, there have been times when I have gone across the street to a neighbor’s for a quiet chat, knowing full well that my daughter is fast asleep. It is always the other white neighbors that raise a fuss or ask the question of who’s watching the child. I don’t mean to make this a race issue, but coming from an Indian-American family, I tend to think of parenting as quite different from my neighbors. Less helicopter and more free-range!

  16. The Slow Foods Mama August 17, 2012 at 5:35 am #

    That’s so lovely!

    I just came from the park with my toddler and was so pleased to see two kids of about the same age as the kids in this story walk their dog BY THEMSELVES into the park and proceed to play away quite capably on their own.

    It was funny how noticeable it was, simply because it’s so rare to see. Never mind all the positive effects, the confidence building and all that – they just looked like they were having so much fun!

    Three cheers for childhood.

  17. ifsogirl August 17, 2012 at 5:38 am #

    I have just moved from a small two bedroom apartment with no outside greenspace to a townhouse with a large shared front yard and my kids and I are LOVING it. There is also a small playground about two blocks away that I am going to be walking my kids to and from for a while until they get some more independance.

    I am a little leary to leave them on their own as at the ages of 5 and 8 this is a whole new experience for them. I give them free run of the front yard, usually there are other kids but not always. They have even walked to the corner to help some kids with their lemonade stand, and we’ve only been here a week. But hearing stories like these make me nervous. What if I let my kids go to the park and I get in trouble. My ex-husband and I are in a battle over custody, and I worry that any infraction on my side could change the outcome to one where I would have less time with them.

    I live in Canada and we don’t seem to have quite as many issues with this as the US does. But we are greatly influenced by the American media as it makes up most of our television. I used to walk to school on my own at 8 years old. When I told my mother that I let the kids go to the corner she looked horrified. I could see the, but what if something happend look. Not only did I walk to school by myself, I got up to an empty house, got ready for school, and sometimes even got there on time. How times have changed.

  18. Jim Collins August 17, 2012 at 6:24 am #

    I’m with Donna and Mike on this one. This just gave the Prosecutor a way out of the bad publicity. The Father still lost. I’m sure that there will be a fat bill for the parenting classes and another in the form of court costs. Sorry. I count this as a loss. I wish he could have taken this to Court. That way there would be an actual ruling that would establish precedent for the next person that gets hassled over this. I fully understand why the father took this settlement, because, the deck was stacked against him and he couldn’t afford to lose.

  19. Cass August 17, 2012 at 6:35 am #

    What a great story! When I was a kid I lived in a neighbourhood where I got to run around like an idiot whenever I wanted, because the community was so loving and trusting! It’s a huge loss in today’s society.

  20. Donna August 17, 2012 at 6:52 am #

    “I wish he could have taken this to Court. That way there would be an actual ruling that would establish precedent for the next person that gets hassled over this.”

    Unless the precedent is bad. Many here seem to make the assumption that, of course, the father will win. That is far from a foregone conclusion. Him getting convicted sets a NEGATIVE precedent for the next person that gets hassled over this and actually makes it less likely that that person will even be offered pretrial diversion since a conviction is now reasonably assured.

  21. backroadsem August 17, 2012 at 7:15 am #

    I don’t care, I’m calling it a victory. This gets the concept of FRK out there!

  22. Chihiro August 17, 2012 at 7:59 am #

    I just looked up the legal babysitting age for Minnesota (my state) and it’s eleven…whoops. To be fair, my brother was and is extremely mature and responsible for his age and my father does tend to take the concept of free-range parenting and running like crazy with it.

  23. steve August 17, 2012 at 8:00 am #

    The title of that article at Chartiers Valley says a lot about the writer’s mindset, and probably that of the police:

    “Charges Dropped Against Dad Who Left Kids at Scott Park to Shower”

    The idea is: here’s this clueless, negligent, and self-centered parent who didn’t know any better than to leave his precious kids at the park (where they were likely to be harmed or abducted) while he INDULGED himself by taking a shower!!! A SHOWER!!! What in the world was he thinking??!!?

  24. hineata August 17, 2012 at 8:04 am #

    I will say again what I think I’ve said before, that really it’s quite remarkable how many police you seem to have hanging around able to interfere with this sort of nonsense, i.e. ‘unsupervised’ children having fun at parks, or even in their own yards. One idea might be to campaign to reduce the size of the police force, in the hope that they might then concentrate on real issues, like, say, robberies or assaults.

    Also, isn’t this rather a waste of court time too?

  25. hineata August 17, 2012 at 8:16 am #

    Not that our system is perfect, of course. Far from it. Recently (over the last few years, that is, not just last week), thanks to some kind of anti-terrorism business dreamed up between our government and the US, we’ve had armed police holding guns at the heads of 10 year olds who made the unfortunate mistake of being born in Tuhoe country, because, God forbid, they might be terrorists. Because, while they were drunk, their elders made, among other things, threats against George Bush.

    The threat? They planned to catapault a cow at his head. Or, if that failed, a bus.

    So, be warned. If you see a bunch of Maoris in Washington (brown fellas, look a bit like Mexicans, occasionally have facial tattoos) driving a bus andncarrying a really huge catapault and leading a cow, call the police…..That would really be something for them to get their teeth into.

    P.S of course the above has nothing at all to do with free range kids-it just annoys me the ways the police find to waste their time. And, call me a helicopter mum, but the idea of 10 year olds having assault rifles waved at their heads bothers me.

  26. Tara August 17, 2012 at 11:04 am #

    FRK victory at our house today! I was having coffee with some friends at the cafe of one of our local grocery stores today. My seven year old son Toby was with me. I was paging through the ads and noticed a great sale on cheese. I asked Toby if he knew where the cheese was. He said he did. I asked him if he knew where the shopping carts were. He did. I asked him if he thought he could go get me the cheese that was on sale (and tore the ad’s picture out to help him know what to get). When he lit up and said he could do that I pointed out what the nametags of the employees looked like and told him that if he couldn’t figure out where he was or if he needed help finding it he should ask an employee for help. Let me tell you, once he came back from his little errand that boy was six inches taller! I then gave him another challenge. Handing him enough cash, I told him to go to the cashier and pay for it. When he got back from that part he had grown another foot with pride in accomplishing such a grown up task as paying for groceries!

    One thing to note, Toby is the kind of kid who can be a little “Eeyore-ish” and could potentially struggle with self-esteem. He frustrates easily and didn’t even want to ride his bike on the driveway this summer. This afternoon he asked me if he could ride his bike two blocks down the street to the Asian food market in our neighborhood. Of course I let him! (He’d never been, but it is a straight shot from our house to the market.) So excited that Toby had these little FRK boosters today!

  27. mollie August 17, 2012 at 11:05 am #

    I judge this a PR victory for FRK. And I say great.

  28. Derek August 17, 2012 at 11:37 am #

    The fact that this story is a story in the first place disturbs me to no end. It is obvious the children were in no danger, with said busybody watching over them.
    The only lesson taught is that the kids will trust no one, creating a real dangerous precedent. Dad will certainly no longer trust those in his community, either.
    As for myself, I was found to be a negligent father to my 9 yr old son for letting him go to a park where the sign reads “No child under age 7 is allowed unsupervised.”
    I have since lost custody of him to my own family’s chief busy body, and infamous child beater, my own mother.
    Government is way too over involved in matters it has no right to be involved in simply to justify inflated budgets and protect government workers’ jobs.

  29. Cynthia August 17, 2012 at 4:05 pm #

    Tara, glad to hear about his little victories.

  30. linvo August 17, 2012 at 4:45 pm #

    I agree with Mollie. The fact that the article mentions the storm of protest the case generated is a victory for FRK. Lets all continue our efforts to comment on media reports like that to let it be known that helicopter parenting should not be the norm!

  31. awombatsweb August 17, 2012 at 4:49 pm #

    Excellent stuff!

  32. Brian August 17, 2012 at 8:16 pm #

    FRK win because instead of continued intervention this got settled.

    I think what we are reacting to is the inability of the police to admit when they were wrong. Typical smug cop crap “It’s not something where you want him to go to jail,” Secreet said. “But you just want to get them on the right track. He went to parenting classes and hopefully he learned something from that.”

    How about, our community and police force learned that perhaps our extremist over-protective reaction was wrong. Perhaps busybody who called the cops learned different people give their kids more freedom.

  33. RedinNC August 17, 2012 at 8:46 pm #

    I gotta say… I’m basically in favor of sensible free-range parenting. However, I am of two minds when it comes to the kids alone at the park. When I am at the park with my son, we’ve many times run into foul-mouthed, bullying, mean 8 year olds that would pick on my son (when he was 3-4), block him from going down the slide, etc. These kids *invariably* have no parent present. It makes me not want to go to the parks where kids play alone. So, yes, send your kids to the park alone, but make sure they know how to behave!

  34. John August 17, 2012 at 11:57 pm #

    RedinNC, that really surprises me that 8-year-old kids still bully little 4-year-olds nowadays. That was actually very common when I was a little boo-boo bear of 6-years-old back in 1962. My 7-year-old neighbor and I would ride our bikes (by ourselves) up to the city swimming pool and the older kids would pick on us in the locker room. Just stuff like snapping towels at us, etc. Nothing that would kill or mame us. So Kevin and I would band together. If it got bad, we’d just tell the pool manager and he would handle the situation. But we survived and all those older kids today are now…..well…..OLD! They’re now grandfathers and turned out pretty decent and neither were we scarred by the situation. Some little boys are just plane naughty! But you are right, kids need to be taught how to behave although most grow out of it. It just galls me today when the police are called for simple incidences like that instead of letting the pool manager or principal deal with the situation and discipline the kids accordingly.

  35. wsanders August 18, 2012 at 4:47 am #

    The new accidental populist police state: Every possibly risky act is criminalized: first a law is created so a politician can score a few points in the press, and then enforced when police and prosecutors can score a few points in the press.

  36. Freedom for Kids August 18, 2012 at 5:14 am #

    I just don’t agree that is is a Free-Range Kids success story. This dad was “corrected” by law enforcement by having to take parenting classes which must have been humiliating for him, and also I am sure there is now permanent damage to him and to his wife as far as them being able to trust their decisions and their community in the future, and damage to his children in that their father is no longer the father they can look up to without question. They will all forevermore be looking over their shoulders. For sure if he ever let his children play alone at the park again at this young age, he will be arrested again, so how is this a victory?

  37. Rock August 19, 2012 at 2:10 am #

    Yes, the prosecution dropped this case because of some random comments on a message board that is read by about 1% of the population in a suburban area of Pittsburgh. We’re in a new world of lobbying now. Leave comments on little-read websites and you too can change the world!

    I’m glad there are some rational posters — on a fairly irrational blog site — that recognize that the article comments had nothing to do with the police’s decision in regards to this case.

  38. pentamom August 20, 2012 at 2:56 am #

    Rock — nice tone, but the Chartiers Valley Patch website is the local newspaper website. What happened over there is the modern equivalent of a firestorm of letters to the editor and people showing up to city council meetings. And in a small town, things like that DO get noticed by the authorities.

    Whether that really was the cause behind this, I’m not sure. But I wouldn’t be so dismissive of the possibility.

  39. lexi August 20, 2012 at 4:49 am #

    I’m thrilled that the charges were dropped but…parenting classes, really? How about a class for police officers and the woman who reported the father–a class to educate them about truly neglected children, e.g. child prostitutes, physically and sexually abused children, etc., not children that were left at the park by their father so that they could PLAY. How humiliating for the father to be forced to take classes to “get him on the right track”, when he was not off track to begin with–at least not as reported in the story. There was no mention of any other neglect or abuse by the father reported in the original story, so unless some details are missing, this father seems guilty of absolutely nothing.

  40. jlbs August 22, 2012 at 8:56 pm #

    Thank Heavens my kids were raised in a world that wasn’t so consumed by fear. They were all “outdoor” kids and would have gone absolutely nuts if they weren’t able to come and go as they pleased–almost. Fear has done more damage to our country than anything else. And there are plenty of people who spread the fear around!

  41. Warren September 11, 2012 at 11:02 pm #

    A wonderful victory, and huge step forward. But there is still alot of work to do.

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