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Child Neglect: Where do you draw the line?

What constitutes parental neglect? 

childneglectA Florida mom was arrested for letting her 7-year-old son walk to the park by himself. Yet parents who put an Uzi in the hands of their 9-year-old, which resulted in a fatality, have not been charged at all. Meanwhile, a local mom who ran to the restroom for a couple of minutes at a fast-food joint while leaving her sons ages six and nine at their table to finish their meal, is being harassed by people who believe she should be charged with neglect, since a man at this fast-food joint tried to lure her kids away.

Parents have to make judgment calls all the time regarding the safety and supervision of their kids. But there are few hard and fast rules to follow to make sure you’re being the kind of parent who’s responsibly toeing the line between safety and appropriate freedoms as you raise your kids.

My husband likes to tell the story of how he walked home from school routinely for lunch...in the first grade! When he was 7-years-old, his parents were perfectly fine with him riding his bike to the pool, playing outside unsupervised and walking down the block. And by all accounts, my mother-in-law was regarded as “the perfect mom” by her family and friends alike. A homemaker who dedicated her life to raising her boys, crafting home-cooked meals every night and being ever-present in the lives of her sons who adore her still. Yet today, would any of this be considered neglectful?

People like to say the world is not as safe as it was 20 years ago. But that’s just not true. In the past 20 years, the murder rate has dropped by half from 9.8 per 100,000 people in 1991 to 5.0 in 2009 according to the FBI. Computer-based systems for mapping crime rates and technology (DNA and data analysis) to catch criminals and subsequently incarcerate them for longer stretches of time are helping to keep crime at bay. Child abductions by strangers are also very rare. In fact, while national surveys indicate that 3 out of 4 parents fear their children will be kidnapped by a stranger, the reality is that three-fourths of child abductions are committed by family members or acquaintances, not strangers at all.

But back to my original question: What constitutes parental neglect?

  • Is it okay to let your kid walk to the park alone? At what age?
  • Is it only okay for parents who have the privilege of raising their kids in a nice, upper-middle-class neighborhood to let their kids roam free around town? Or will they still be vilified if something awful happened to their child?
  • In the state of Illinois, the law is unclear on when minors should be allowed to stay home unsupervised. I’ve heard leaving minors under the age of 14 at home alone is a murky area. Honestly, I find this ridiculous as my stepdaughter has been babysitting since she was 12. It’s a grey area, though, and if anything happened under our watch, we could get into serious trouble.
  • Should we cut parents a break who are doing their best to protect their kids but may struggle with the grey areas of when to leave them unsupervised?

I’d love for you to respectfully weigh in if you have thoughts on this matter!


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