It is now a crime in America to let a 7-year-old boy walk a half mile by himself to the park.
A mother in Florida was arrested and charged with felony child neglect for allowing her son to do just that up to two times a week.
I never realized it but my mother must have been on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted List.
Not only as a 7-year-old did I walk a little more than a half mile by myself to the park but I did so four to five times a week.
I also as a second grader started walking to school by myself. Not only was it 1.5 miles one way but I had to cross a major state highway and what was then Southern Pacific’s main north state railroad line.
I also was a latchkey kid. When I got older, I also watched my sister who is seven years younger.
And – I apologize if this gives Child Protection Services advocates a massive coronary – I actually started working at my mom’s business when I was 13.
Before anyone starts lecturing me about how it was another time, let me say this: You are right. It was another time. But not because life was simpler or there were less people. It’s because we were less paranoid.
Yes, there are a lot of bad people out there. Always has been and always will be. But guess what? The hard fast numbers compiled by the U.S. Department of Justice has crime per 100,000 residents in virtually every category in a 20-year decline.
As for stranger abductions, they still vary each year between 100 and 200.
Still, it’s a scary world. I get that.
One thing, though, is for sure: We don’t have to make it any scarier.
Instant and mass communication – the very thing we value – is a double-edge sword. It can spread a lot of information quickly. It can also spread disinformation just as fast. It also amplifies the bad significantly. If you get instantaneous non-stop feeds on the Internet, your smartphone, or cable TV when something bad happens of course it is going to look like the world is coming to an end.
Which brings us back to allowing a 7-year-old to walk a half a mile to the park by themselves.
At what age does the government – since that is who is bringing the felony child endangerment charges against the mother of the 7-year-old boy in Florida – say it is OK to let a child out of an adult’s sight? Does the kid have to be 9, 12, 17, or 18?
And if the government is worried about a child putting his life in danger would a parent face felony endangerment charges if their kid is allowed to use the Internet without looking over their shoulder 24/7?
How many perverts, since that is one of the fears, do children inadvertently hook up with over the Internet compared to playing at the park?
Perhaps the government should slap all parents of 7-year-olds who surf the Internet and use chatrooms with felony child endangerment charges.
Making all of this even more bizarre is the government’s attitude toward reuniting abusive parents with the kids they abuse. It is the No. 1 goal in incidents involving hardcore parent neglect involving the use of serious drugs, alcoholism, beating, emotional and physical abuse.
Is the case of a mom allowing a 7-year-old to walk by themselves on the same par as parents beating – emotionally and otherwise – a kid or not feeding them because all of the available money in the household is going to drugs and booze? How can both be equal felonies?
Today it’s child neglect or abuse for allowing your child to ride a bicycle without a helmet. Thirty years ago that was the norm. Statistics show that head injuries and such from young bicyclists have dropped since mandatory helmet laws have gone into effect.
But has the number of crimes against kids or injuries dropped involving young kids walking by themselves to parks dropped because the government has now made it a felony?
Most people might conclude it isn’t wise to allow a 7-year-old – regardless of their maturity level – to venture a half mile on their own to a neighborhood park.
But if we embrace a government that makes “what ifs” involving regular day situations involving parents and their children major felonies be prepared for a major spike in crime.
As for my mother, she was a widow who worked her tail off many weeks for seven days and 10 to 12 hours a day so she could provide us with food, clothing, and shelter.
She still managed to teach us responsibility and how to look after ourselves. And except for Social Security for surviving minors – there were four is us – she did it all on her own.
Even so, by today’s standards she would be a felon and a candidate for incarceration.
And people say they don’t understated what’s wrong with this country.
This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Journal or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.