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Free-Range Parenting: Teaching Independence, Or Child Neglect?

SILVER SPRING, Md. (WJZ) -- Two Maryland parents are in the fight of their lives, trying to raise their children the way they want. The government claims what they're doing is dangerous—but is it?

Jessica Kartalija with an in-depth look at a small, but growing movement called "free-range" parenting.

On a recent afternoon, two Maryland children are doing what they typically do--walking by speeding cars, crossing busy streets.

And while they're only six and ten-years-old, Dvora and Rafi Meitiv are frequently alone with no adult supervision.

It's something their mother actually encourages.

"They're urban kids growing up in an urban area, and one of the most important skills that we taught them--how to cross busy streets," their mother, Danielle Meitiv, said.

Dvora and Rafi not only walk home alone, they go to the park alone and to the store alone.

"As they show more maturity, we gave them more responsibility," their mother said.

Reporter: "What have you done to prepare your kids to be more independent?"

Mother: "They started playing in the yard, then, you know, they were allowed in front of the house, then around the corner. They know the boundaries."

This controversial parenting style--quietly going on for years--unnoticed-- until a passerby calls the police.

Someone saw the kids walking by themselves right along Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring.

Reporter: "Georgia Avenue is a busy street."

Mother: "It's no busier than the streets I crossed growing up in New York City."

Authorities step in, telling the parents to supervise their kids better, or face serious consequences.

"My son came in and called me and was crying, and said, 'The police are here and I think daddy is going to be arrested,'" Danielle Meitiv said.

The Meitiv family is not alone.

In Florida, a seven-year-old walks to the playground by himself. And in New York City, a mother lets her nine-year-old son ride the subway alone.

It's part of a small, but growing movement called "free-range" parenting.

"We have to get rid of this crazy idea that any child unsupervised is a child who is in danger," said Lenore Skenazy, free-range parenting expert.

Lenore Skenazy is an advocate for the movement.

"A free range parent is an old-fashioned parent, trusting them to go outside after you've taught them to look both ways before you cross the street, don't get into a car with anybody, don't take candy from strangers. It's nothing new, it's actually old," Skenazy said.

But can too much independence for kids become dangerous?

"Don't be overly permissive. How do you define overly permissive? 'I don't care; they can do what they want.' I would say that's overly permissive," said Psychiatrist Jack Vaeth.

But the Meitivs are not backing down.

Reporter: "Do you worry that they could take your children?"

Mother: "I know they have that power, and I worry what will happen if somebody else calls because my kids are still going to the park. We should have never been on their radar in the first place and they have no right to judge us."

This month, the children were picked up again by police for walking alone. Montgomery County council members are asking Maryland's attorney general to clarify the state's law on unattended children.

WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU: Does free range parenting teach independence or is it child neglect? Join the conversation on our Facebook page.

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