Let Grow is working to pass a Reasonable Childhood Independence bill in Connecticut. We asked citizens there to write letters in support of it. Your jaw will drop as you read the one below.
TO SUPPORT THE CONNECTICUT LAW, PLEASE WRITE YOUR OWN LEGISLATOR A LETTER. Find their names and contact info here. DEADLINE IS MARCH 29.
The letter-writer asked for anonymity. Granted! We added headlines because that’s what blogs do.
I am writing to you in support of Bill 1048/1133. It clarifies that being unsupervised by an adult does not, by itself, constitute “substantial risk” to a child’s health or well-being.
Current law authorizes charging a class A misdemeanor if a parent allows any child under the age of 12 to be unsupervised in a public place. Amending the law will allow parents to make reasonable judgments about their children’s ability to handle unsupervised activities.
I wanted to relate a personal anecdote in order to illustrate the law in its current form:
The library visit I will never forget.
A couple of weeks ago, I brought my 6 ½ year old son to the Children’s Room of the [local] library, a place we visit regularly. After some serious consideration, I decided that I would let him walk into the room and browse the shelves while I ran across the street to grab him a snack. I gave him firm instructions regarding safety and etiquette, which he received with an attitude of gravity (he was thrilled for this opportunity to be independent). I then dashed across the road to the market, grabbed a bag of chips, and paid before rushing back to the library.
When I arrived at the entrance to the Children’s Room, I paused to see what my son was doing. There he was, with two books tucked under his arm, inspecting the shelves for a third. I exhaled, pleased about the success of our little mission.
Did you leave your child???
Then I looked to the right, where the librarian, from her desk, fixed my son with a stare. Had something happened while I was out, or was this a standard librarian’s gaze?
I learned that neither was the case when I greeted my son and the librarian approached, asking if this was my child and if I had left him unattended. I answered yes and asked if there had been any misbehavior. She answered that there had not, but that leaving my son unattended was not permitted.
I apologized profusely, readying myself for her explanation. There was probably a “No children unattended” sign that I’d failed to notice. She was going to tell me that leaving a child put the staff in the unfair position of being babysitters and exposed them to liability — both justified reasons, in my opinion.
The manager will bring a copy of the law you broke.
Instead, she informed me that leaving my son unattended was against the law. “No further action had been taken” as of my arrival, she reassured me (in a way that did not sound so reassuring). I stuttered my rationale — about building a little independence — again, apologetically. I preemptively conceded that maybe this activity would have been more appropriate for my older child, who’s 9.
“Of course not!” laughed the librarian. Apparently, briefly leaving a child of that age would also be absurd. She asked me to wait while she called her manager.
My son and I sat there until another staff member arrived with a printout of the Connecticut State Law Regarding Unsupervised Children, pointing to the first section stating that a parent or guardian leaving a child under the age of 12 unattended in a place of public accommodation was guilty of a class A misdemeanor. After a few more apologies and promises never to do this again, we left the library.
Can my kids NEVER visit the children’s room without me?
Later that evening, looking at the printout more closely, I lingered on the phrase “for a period of time that presents a substantial risk to the child’s health or safety.” As there is no definition of what constitutes a substantially risky period of time, however, I doubt that engaging the staff in a debate on this technicality would have done much to mitigate their interpretation of the law at that moment.
I will not claim that leaving my son alone in the library for approximately 5 minutes and 52 seconds was the right decision. Being human involves constantly questioning the level of risk that all parents, including ourselves, should take.
I also understand that laws are needed to limit parental decision making, which is why we no longer have Connecticut children working in factories or bouncing around unsecured in moving vehicles. I am concerned, however, about a law that encouraged library staff to confront me with the very real possibility of criminal prosecution for what was, statistically, a low-risk parental decision.
The law must allow parents to make rational decisions.
I was reluctant to include my experience here, as it involves publicly disclosing three things that evoke significant anxiety for me: accusation of unreasonable parental risk-taking, possible violation of the law, and, perhaps the longest-standing fear, reprimand by a librarian. I believe it helps to highlight, however, how the law in its current form needs to be clarified in order to establish protections for the reasonable judgements of parents and caregivers.
In addition, allowing a child to participate in independent activities creates confidence, prevents anxiety, and develops executive functioning skills.
For these reasons, I encourage you to pass Raised Bill 1048/ 1133 and encourage your “yes” vote.
A mom of two in Fairfield County