Letting Your Kids Play At The Park Unsupervised Should Not Be A Felony

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A mother in Johnson City, Tennessee is facing criminal charges of child neglect for letting her 8 and 5-year-olds walk to the park by themselves. My initial reaction is to think that I would never allow kids that young to play at a park without supervision. Then I take a step back and cannot fathom that this act alone makes a mother a criminal. Sure it’s not what I would choose, but is it neglect?

April Lawson is obviously a bit of a free-range mother. In fact, I read about her story on the Free Range website. On a normal afternoon, she let her two kids walk down to the park to play. When they didn’t return after an hour, Lawson sent someone to get them. They arrived at the park to find the two kids weren’t there.

At that point, Lawson did what any parent would in that situation. She dialed 911 to report that her children were missing. In those minutes, I simply cannot imagine the fear that a parent must experience. Thankfully, before the police could even arrive, the situation was figured out. The two kids had walked to a nearby house and were already back home before a cop car pulled up. Thank the Lord and sorry for the scare, right? Wrong.

After hearing the situation, the officers contacted Child Protective Services and arrested Johnson for allowing her kids to go to the park unsupervised. She now faces charges of felony abuse and neglect.

Is allowing young kids to go to the park unattended something I would do? Probably not. It is child abuse? Well, I realize that I’m not the one who gets to decide what is or isn’t child abuse, but on a personal level, I feel like it’s not. And the most important question should be here, are these kids going to be better off in a different home than they would with their mother? If the lone walk to the park is the only indiscretion, it’s hard to think that they would be helped by being removed from their mom’s care.

This story hits such a difficult line for me. And it brings about a debate that I think every parent should be interested in. If someone parents differently than I do, does that make their parenting wrong?

These kids weren’t hurt. Obviously there was a chance that they could have been, but there’s always a chance that kids can be hurt.

I have a nephew whose 7 and a daughter that’s 4. This weekend, I took them both to the zoo with me. And when my daughter needed to go to the restroom, I was honestly torn about whether or not to drag a 7-year-old boy into the ladies room because I felt uncomfortable leaving him by the door to wait for us. There’s lots of people at the zoo! And lots of distractions. Where’s that stupid family bathroom when you need it? A year from now, would I let those same two kids walk to the park a block away without an adult? The answer is no. I wouldn’t.

But if you’re a parent who trusts the responsibility of an 8-year-old, and you choose to do so, are you unfit to parent? That just doesn’t seem like a fair conclusion to me. Shouldn’t there be something in between, “questionable choice” and “convicted criminal” where parents can gain information or perspective?

Obviously I’m undecided about this case and the practice of jailing a parent for neglect when they were making a conscious choice to give their young children some serious responsibility. What do you guys think? Is this a felony offense? Would let kids this young play at the park unsupervised?

(Photo: Telegraph)