As we all know, different parents have different parenting styles. The customs employed in child-rearing vary by culture, region, and neighborhood — and many differences of opinion on the matter exist within single homes.
In this area of life, as our criminal defense lawyers know, the law frequently comes into play in the form of child abuse and child neglect laws, which are designed and enforced to ensure the well being of the most vulnerable members of society.
However, as we will discuss below, recent reports of child neglect charges in various questionable cases reveal that perhaps the line between acceptable parenting styles and instances of child abuse has been blurred; perhaps law enforcement authorities are turning parents into criminals — when they haven’t actually broken any laws.
Consider a story from last week, in which we learned that a set of parents have been charged with child neglect after letting their children, aged 10 and 6, walk the mile from a local park back to their home. While this might seem strange, even outrageous, to many other parents, these parents are embracing what they call “free range parenting,” as opposed to “helicopter” parenting, a more recent phenomenon whereby parents “hover” over their children, observing and controlling all possible aspects of their lives.
Free range parenting, and other parenting styles often scoffed at or ridiculed by others, have been on national display many times before. As this article from CNN reminds us, a South Carolina mother was arrested for letting her 9-year-old daughter play alone at the park. Further, a Florida mother was arrested after letting her 7-year-old walk to the park alone.
So, the question is, at what point do individual parenting styles become forms of child neglect and/or abuse?
It’s important to take into consideration that in the first case described above, the two children were picked up by police half-way through their walk home; they didn’t run into any danger, nor were they harmed in any way. Police, as a precaution, after receiving reports of the children walking by themselves, picked up the children and drove them home. Upon arrival at the house, the police officers spoke to the parents of the children about child safety and the dangers of allowing one’s children to walk alone.
As our Palm Beach and Broward County criminal defense lawyers know, the parents weren’t actually breaking any law, and yet they received a stern talking to from the police. Was this fair? From our point of view, unless the parents materially subjected their children to danger and/or harm to their physical or mental wellbeing, they did not break any law in this case. Allowing the children to walk home alone might not be what others would have done, but it’s what this family chose to do. There must be a clear line between what constitutes individual parenting techniques and what constitutes criminal child abuse and/or neglect.
If you have any questions about these types of stories, or if you’ve been arrested for or charged with a crime in Palm Beach, Broward or Miami-Dade County, please contact us to schedule a free consultation by calling 1-888-5-DEFEND (1-888-533-3363). We look forward to speaking with you.