Bryan Caplan  

How Legal Is Free-Range Parenting?

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Law professor and free-range dad David Pimentel carefully reviews the legality of free-range parenting.  Just one case:
In State v. Hughes, a father was convicted in a bench trial for leaving his 5-year-old daughter in the air-conditioned cab of his pickup truck, watching a cartoon on a DVD player, equipped with a cell phone she knew how to use, while he ran into the store. The court of appeals reversed, over a vehement dissent, noting that the Ohio statute required that the father's neglect create a "substantial risk" or a "significant possibility" of harm to the child. The prevailing opinion (not joined by the concurring judge) detailed the various sequences of events that would be necessary for this child to be harmed during the 27 minutes she was alone, and found them to be speculative. The majority was careful not to endorse the father's conduct, however, only concluding that the facts did not justify criminal conviction...
In absolute terms, I'm not worried about being persecuted by child welfare services.  But power-mad bureaucrats probably outnumber kidnappers and serial killers at least a thousand to one.
 

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COMMENTS (10 to date)
Tom West writes:

In State v. Hughes, a father was convicted in a bench trial for leaving his 5-year-old daughter in the air-conditioned cab of his pickup truck, watching a cartoon on a DVD player, equipped with a cell phone she knew how to use, while he ran into the store.

Okay, the world has officially gone insane. Next up, conviction for failure to set up meteorite shield for toddler while playing outside.

david writes:

Reading the paper, I cannot help but feel that Pimental would be better off objecting to the American reliance on judicial discretion rather than explicit bureaucratic regulation, plus the ability of American prosecutors, particularly of lower courts, to pursue personal vendettas and political views.

But of course too many Americans react exactly as Caplan does here: bureaucracy bureaucracy bureaucracy! What did they think was going to happen instead? "Small government and the rule of law" is not less intrusive; it just gets less legible to your legislature and more in the hands of those who inevitably have to interpret the rule of law.

Philo writes:

This sentence is one of the many gems from EconLog: “Power-mad bureaucrats probably outnumber kidnappers and serial killers at least a thousand to one.”

Joe Cushing writes:

Agreed. 5 does seem young but every child is different. This parent knows more about his child than we do.

Joe Cushing writes:

Now that I think of it, I used to walk 4 blocks to school by myself when I was 5. I was just as alone as the kid in the car. I didn't have a cell phone either.

The Arcadian writes:

I didn't read the entire paper, but what I read was very good and well researched. The issue isn't about whether a specific individual or action, but about both the definition of and the consequences for poor parenting changing drastically.

A related issue which the paper just briefly touches on is the conflict between keeping your kids safe and preparing them for adulthood. Fearful parents will raise fearful kids, too afraid to make a grilled cheese sandwich because someone told them the stove might be hot.

tim maguire writes:

"while he ran into the store" is a bit of a whopper, a dishonest statement designed to manipulate the casual reader into a particular response.

27 minutes is a very long time to leave a 5-year-old alone. The chain of events leading to a deadly accident is not long--getting bored and getting out or seeing something shiny under the seat. That's all it would take.

Tom West writes:

Tim, 27 minutes is only slightly more time than I took going to and from kindergarten each day from school.

Yes, kids *can* get into serious trouble in seconds. However, the *chance* of getting into serious trouble that would not helped by a passer-by is almost negligible.

If it weren't, very few of us over 40 would have survived into adulthood.

Intensive parenthood is a pathology that I am personally inclined towards - I understand it. But legally enforcing this particular neurosis is mind-boggling.

Bob writes:

I also walked to and from school by myself when I was five years old, and so did nearly everyone else in my kindergarten class. (We actually had neighborhood schools back then, so school was within easy walking or biking distance for almost everyone.) Cell phones didn't exist. Neither did bicycle helmets. The school had no cafeteria, so each kid brought a lunch from home. There were no government agents prowling the schools inspecting our lunches to make sure they measured up to the FDA's standards. Astonishingly, we all survived childhood, as difficult as that may be for you young folks to believe.

Andy writes:

I'm only 25 and even I biked to school when I was 7. My parents regularly left me home alone when I was 5 for hours. Amazingly, children that aren't watched 24/7 don't all spontaneously die.

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