Free-Range Kids

Policing Parents and Kids: The Year's 8 Most Paranoid Moments

And five examples of parents wisely letting their kids go—and grow.


It wasn't all bad—but a lot of it was, so let's start with that. Without further ado, here are eight times that authority figures went to crazy lengths to deprive kids of autonomy in the name of nebulous safety concerns.

Bunny business: Hard-boiled lawyers made sure no kids could participate in the University of California–Berkeley's campus Easter egg hunt without parents first signing a waiver acknowledging the potential risk of "catastrophic injuries including paralysis and death."

Chalk's up, don't shoot: Teachers at Meadowlawn Elementary in Monticello, Indiana, were taken into a room, told to crouch down, and shot execution style. Then the next group was sent in. Then the next. But hey—it was just a drill! And the weapons were non-lethal Airsoft guns! These extenuating facts were something the terrified teachers didn't know at first. "They shot all of us across our backs," said one teacher. "I was hit four times."

Van-demonium: Don't even park near a white van, the mayor of Baltimore warned his constituents. "We're getting reports of somebody in a white van trying to snatch up young girls for human trafficking and for selling body parts." Reports? The stories were on Facebook. The police, who rely on other sources—like reality—said there had been no such crimes.

Do you know the muffin, ma'am? Holly Curry, a Kentucky mom who let her six children wait in the car for 10 minutes while she ran into a café to get them muffins, found herself reported to child protective services. The authorities came to her home and proceeded to make each child strip naked so they could look for signs of abuse. The verdict? The kids were fine, at least until they were forced to strip for strangers. Now the mom is pursuing a lawsuit.

Drag-not: Santana Adams of Milton, West Virginia, accused a man of grabbing her 5-year-old daughter and dragging her by the hair at an Old Navy, fleeing only when mama pulled out a gun from her purse. The man was quickly found and hauled off to jail, until mall footage showed the two shoppers calmly leaving the store, going in opposite directions. The mom has been charged with making a false accusation.

The old college try: Dozens of parents, including several celebrities, paid a fixer to help their kids cheat their way into their dream colleges. The fixer hired test takers, bribed coaches, and photoshopped the kids into water polo and crew team pictures—elite sports they didn't play and now probably never will.

Chore leave: Christina Behar posted a "mother's helper available" note on behalf of her spunky almost-10-year-old Sarah, who was looking for a part-time gig helping local moms with dishes, laundry, and such. Six hours later, the sheriff showed up at Behar's door. "Apparently the ad generated multiple phone calls from paranoid neighbors thinking I was using my child as a slave," said Christina. No slavery, for the record: just a modern kid willing to do some chores. (Weird, I know.)

Sliding into cash: A kindergartener who hurt her arm on the slide during recess at Griebling Elementary School in Howell, New Jersey, was awarded $170,000. Her lawyer said the girl was hurtling downward at an "excessive speed" because the slide was at a 35 degree angle, while federal standards say kindergarten slides should be no steeper than 30 degrees. Just wait until this family finds out that some towns have hills.

Thankfully, there was some good news, too. Here are five parenting moments that avoided worst-first thinking:

Club kids: The kids in one particular club at a Title I school in Texas outscored their fellow students on a statewide test in Texas. What kind of club? Perfect attendance? Teacher's pets? Children of NASA engineers? Try "Dungeons & Dragons club." Teacher Kade Wells explained why: "Playing Dungeons & Dragons makes you smarter."

She's a chum: New Smyrna Beach, Florida, called the "shark bite capital of the world" (though probably not by the New Smyrna Beach Chamber of Commerce), lived up to its name when 9-year-old Maggie Crum was bitten by a shark in knee-deep water on her first vacation there. Twelve stitches later, Maggie went right back in the water—and so did her parents.

Something special in the air: When Alexa Bjornson put her son Landon on a flight from Las Vegas to Oregon, she gave him a note to hand to the person sitting next to him, as well as a thank-you $10 bill. The note explained that Landon, 7, has autism and might ask, "Are we there yet?" a lot. But the guy next to him, Ben Pedraza, texted the mom at the end of the trip to say he'd had a great time joking around with the boy. As for the $10, Ben donated it to the Autism Society.

Trail blazers: California sisters Leia and Caroline Carrico, aged 8 and 5, went outside to play and got lost for 44 hours in the rainy, frigid, bear-filled woods behind their home. When they realized they didn't know how to get home, their 4-H training kicked in. Said Humboldt County Sheriff William Honsal of the girls: "They knew exactly what to do to hold on." They stayed put. They huddled under bushes to stay dry. And they drank the water that pooled on huckleberry leaves.

He's got my vote: When mom of three Elizabeth Broadbent learned that the South Carolina Senate was going to vote on a free-range parenting bill like the one in Utah, which guarantees that childhood independence is not mistaken for neglect, she found the perfect expert to address the Senate: her 9-year-old son, Blaise. Donning a suit and bowtie, Blaise told the lawmakers that if the state doesn't let his younger brothers play outside with him without his mother there all the time, he'd have to play alone and "it actually would be pretty boring." The Senate passed the bill, which now awaits a vote in the House.

NEXT: Resolutions To See You Through a New (Election) Year

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  1. Teacher Kade Wells explained why: “Playing Dungeons & Dragons makes you smarter.”

    Um, no. Dorks play D&D, and dorks tend to be smarter than the cool kids.

    1. It’s not true that dorks get higher grades. Only certain kinds of dorks get higher grades, and they aren’t necessarily the same dorks that play D&D. You will find some smart and high-grade dorks playing D&D, but you’ll also find some smart but low grade dorks playing the same game, and even a few yahoo dorks playing it as well.

      Some of the biggest D&D players in my high school barely managed to graduate and are still barely scratching by forty years later.

      Also, the smartest dorks stop playing D&D once they realize there are other, better, role-playing games out there. D&D is the Budweiser of the RPG world.

      1. Dorkologist…

        1. It’s a blessing and a curse

      2. Well, I was one of those dorks but I think our D&D games were probably a little different than most.

        We would play D&D after we went street racing. It also required copious amounts of alcohol.

        At least 3 of the 5 of us where smarter than most – not going to say which 3, or, if I’m even included…….

        1. First campaign I ran (DM, not player) I had a the most stereotyped biker dude ever as a player. He was an elf chick. True fact.

    2. We got in trouble for this back in the ’80 with an unsanctioned D&D club (lots of D&D hysteria at the time). We would have all gotten in trouble if one player (a girl, no less) told the Vice Principal he was just a ‘petty functionary’, thereby taking the heat for all of us.

      She got a brief suspension, and we got a warning and told to go back to class.

      1. She got a brief suspension, a +2 knockback bonus and permanent hero status.


  2. Go-Go-Gadget Nanny State.

  3. My cousin has broken 2 arms playing on jungle gyms and all she got was a visit from cps accusing her mom of neglect.

  4. …and for selling body parts.

    Where’s that white van kidney I ordered?

  5. “she found the perfect expert to address the Senate: her 9-year-old son, Blaise.”

    I’m not sure that using your children to push political agendas should go in the win column. The ends don’t justify the means.

    1. HOW DARE YOU?!

  6. “Playing Dungeons & Dragons makes you smarter.”

    We’re the kids allowed to bring a staff of knowledge into the test?

    1. Only a +2 pencil.

      1. AKA a weapon.

        1. Need saving throw against lead poisoning

      2. Actually, you can bring a pair of +2 pencils if you have the dual wielding skill.

  7. “a free-range parenting bill like the one in Utah, which guarantees that childhood independence”

    I understand the appeal of such laws, but I think they send the wrong message- that our rights and freedom are granted us by the government. And if such bills can guarantee them, they can also take them away.

    1. Agreed. This should be a function of either the executive branch (veto over-reaching legislation, implement rules and regulations that don’t impede on the rights of parents) or the judicial branch (striking down unconstitutional legislation/regulation).

      I shouldn’t have to ask my lawmakers for permission to raise my kids.

      1. Your first mistake was thinking of them as your kids – it takes a village and we’re all stakeholders in the village. You didn’t build that.

        1. Uncle Sam something something Prima Nocta.

    2. It depends on how they are worded. A bill that prevents the STATE from doing something is good and worthy. Such a bill does not guarantee any rights, but it does attempt to guarantee that the state won’t infringe those rights.

      1. It appears the Utah law defines what neglect is not:

        (c) “Neglect” does not include:

        (iv) permitting a child, whose basic needs are met and who is of sufficient age and maturity to avoid harm or unreasonable risk of harm, to engage in independent activities, including:

        (A) traveling to and from school, including by walking, running, or bicycling;
        (B) traveling to and from nearby commercial or recreational facilities;
        (C) engaging in outdoor play;
        (D) remaining in a vehicle unattended, except under the conditions described in Subsection 76-10-2202(2)

        which looks a lot like the legislature is reserving for itself the ability to allow/disallow what they choose to.

        1. Look, just shut up and bend the knee, serf.

  8. In other news, more evidence that the state is just about what we think it is.

    “Their conduct, without question, has also resulted in the far-reaching and harmful perceptions that are the antithesis of the values we strive to attain,” Sandy wrote. “The inevitable consequence of the conduct has not only damaged the reputation of the Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation but also negatively impacts morale across the workforce.”

    The perceptions might be far-reaching and harmful, but I’m skeptical of the antithesis part.

    1. So that’s a no-go on the “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign in the cell blocks?

  9. “excessive speed” because the slide was at a 35 degree angle, while federal standards say kindergarten slides should be no steeper than 30 degrees.
    JFC on a popsicle stick!!
    If a single one of those fucking jerkwad jurors had ever taken even high school physics, this would have been squashed.
    NERD DISCLAIMER: If you or anyone in your family has ever had math/science phobia, stop reading this message IMMEDIATELY!!

    The acceleration of an object (such as a little girl) down a slide is proportional to g (9.8 m/s^2) times the sine of the angle the slide makes with the horizontal. A horizontal slide causes zero acceleration since sin (0 deg) = 0. Whereas a 90 degree slide (i.e, free fall) causes acceleration= g = 9.8 m/s^2 since sin (90 deg) = 1.
    Sine of 30 deg equals 0.5. Sine of 35 deg equals 0.57. So the acceleration of the child is only 14% higher on the steeper slide.
    Assuming the child starts sliding from rest at the top of the slide, the final velocity at the bottom is proportional to the square root of the acceleration. This means the final velocity is 6.7% higher on the steeper slide. 7% faster doesn’t cause the girl to go from harmless fun-time to $170,000 damages!!!

    1. I did neglect friction in the above example.

      1. Note: A higher coefficient of friction does increase the relative difference in final velocities for the 2 different angles. However, this is more than offset by the reduction in absolute velocity.
        Frictionless (for a 3 meter long slide)
        30 deg= 5.4 m/s; 35 deg 5.8 m/s
        Coefficient of friction of 0.6 (pretty high amount of friction)
        30 deg= 1.1 m/s; 35 deg 2.1 m/s

        1. Now factor for wind resistance.

        2. Picture Clark Griswold sliding down the hill. Dangerous, mkay.

  10. The full story of Israel’s cleaning
    click here

  11. My cousin has broken 2 arms playing on jungle gyms and all she got was a visit from cps accusing her mom of neglect. its not safe

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