When I was around 8 years old, my parents took me to Disney World. My Disney vacation went thusly: we walked into the Magic Kingdom, my dad checked my watch, he gave me a bit of money for food and drink, and then we went our separate ways. We met back at the front of the park at the end of the day, and I had enjoyed a wonderful day. Aside from the fact that I don’t have much in the way of family memories from our family vacations, I had a great time. I lost count of the number of times I rode Pirates of the Caribbean and Magic Mountain. I probably enjoyed 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea nearly as many times. When it rained, I found shelter, had a soda, and waited until I could start riding the rides again. By the time I was 9, I was a full time latch-key kid (and, just a few years later, having a handgun in the house saved me from a home intruder– but that’s a different story for another day). Does that constitute criminal behavior on my parents’ part? Did they deserve to be jailed for “abandoning” me? I certainly don’t believe so, but times have changed.
Here are the facts: Debra Harrell works at McDonald’s in North Augusta, South Carolina. For most of the summer, her daughter had stayed there with her, playing on a laptop that Harrell had scrounged up the money to purchase. (McDonald’s has free WiFi.) Sadly, the Harrell home was robbed and the laptop stolen, so the girl asked her mother if she could be dropped off at the park to play instead.
Harrell said yes. She gave her daughter a cell phone. The girl went to the park—a place so popular that at any given time there are about 40 kids frolicking—two days in a row. There were swings, a “splash pad,” and shade. On her third day at the park, an adult asked the girl where her mother was. At work, the daughter replied.
The shocked adult called the cops. Authorities declared the girl “abandoned” and proceeded to arrest the mother.
As I said: times have changed. Is the world that much more dangerous? Or are our children that much more vulnerable? Or have we just lost our sense of context and reasonableness? I actually don’t know the answer to that question, but it seems like an overreaction.
What my parents did with me, I wouldn’t do with my own kids, but it isn’t necessarily because I’d be worried about their safety. It’s because I would want to be sure that I had memories with my children.