Year in Review

The 10 Worst Helicopter Parenting Stories of 2021

Suffice it to say, the pandemic did not lead to great childhood independence policies.


Judgmental carjackers, pitiless principals, and, of course, all sorts of COVID-19 craziness made 2021 a year to remember—or maybe forget—for parents, kids, and the still sane among us. (There are some left, right?)

The stories include: 

1. Mask Mess in Massachusetts

In March, three freshmen at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst were suspended for the rest of the school year for the unspeakable offense of attending an off-campus party and not wearing masks—outside. Said the mom of one, "This is like putting someone on death row for their first speeding ticket."

The students appealed—and lost. They didn't even get their tuition refunded. That's how they ended up at the top of this list.

Meanwhile, up the road, Amherst College told students they were required to wear not one but two masks indoors—a precaution so over-the-top that it actually contradicted Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, which recommend against people wearing more than one disposable mask at a time.

2. Hey Lazy Mom, You Suck

Yet another man screamed at a lady for leaving her kid in the car while she ran into the grocery for two items. But this guy was particularly miffed, because she ruined his workday. As a carjacker, he was going about his business, stealing her car and driving off, when he noticed the darn baby and had to turn around and bring him back. On the upside, at least that gave the guy a chance to tell the mom what an irresponsible lowlife she was before he sped off again in her car.

3. Welcome Back, Now Leave

In November, even before the omicron onslaught, close to 10,000 schools announced new days off—for the entire week of Thanksgiving, in some cases—with only a day or two of warning. The reasons ranged from teacher shortages to fatigue to mental health, but whose? "We all feel like we're witnessing the death of public education up close and personal," one mom told NPR—as in the notably liberal public radio channel. The times, they are a-changing.

4. We'll Leave a Light On (in Your Jail Cell)

Shaina Bell of Youngstown, Ohio, was arrested for leaving her kids, ages 10 and two, in a motel room while she worked her evening shift at a pizza shop. Cops booked mom into jail on two counts of criminal child endangerment, because Bell can certainly supervise her kids better from behind bars. But there's some good news: When the story got out, a GoFundMe raised $165,000 to help the family. 

5. The School Pick-Up to Prison Pipeline

Elsewhere in the annals of single motherhood, when 10-year-old Braylin Harvey was picked up seven minutes late from a Chicago Public School, the school reported his mom, JaNay Dodson, to the Department of Child and Family Services for neglect. The principal sent JaNay an email saying, "I am empathetic to the challenges of balancing work and family responsibilities, however, all school employees are… required to follow CPS protocols." Exactly how empathetic does that sound?

6. A Can Opener of Worms

After John Roderick's tweets about making his daughter figure out how to use a can opener went viral, a dozen people reported "bean dad" to child protective services. A caseworker came out and interrogated the girl, age nine, thus learning this dark family secret: What she liked least about daddy was that sometimes he gets tired of playing with Legos faster than she does. Despite this damning fact, the authorities decided to allow Roderick to continue living with his wife and kids. (He has ceased to live on Twitter.)

7. Fair, Fat, and Four

A study of over 400,000 American children ages 2-19 found "sharp increases in BMI rates occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic… and younger school-aged children experienced the largest increases." The CDC hypothesized that the reasons for this included increased stress and screen time, and decreased physical activity. Perhaps forcing kids to stay alone and inside for months might have some downsides.

8. FDA: Fear and Dread?

Because there just wasn't enough for it to do this year, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning to Americans: "Alcohol-based hand sanitizer in the eyes can cause serious injury." Serious? How serious? Over the course of two-and-a-half years, the agency tallied 3,642 "injuries," by which it meant not blindness but eyes becoming red or irritated, the way they do when almost any liquid gets in them. The busy beavers at the agency also studied the dangers of hand sanitizer vapors, discovering an average of five "adverse incidents" a year, or 1 for every 66,000,000 people. Then they issued a press release about that danger, too. "These are the same people who could not approve an at-home COVID-19 test for a year," mused former New York Times science writer John Tierney.

9. No Glowing Recommendation For This Kid

Students who had returned to Haddon Township High School in New Jersey were evacuated in January, even as hazmat teams rushed to the scene. A bomb threat? Anthrax? Some weird new variant? Worse! On January 4, a sophomore brought a quarter-size piece of Fiestaware—the colorful Depression-era plates—to science. He wanted to see if the red color, once made with uranium oxide, was radioactive. His teacher was excited. But just a few days later, someone at the school declared it a biohazard. (These are the same plates millions of Americans ate off of for decades.) When six emergency vehicles, lights flashing, confronted the student, you could say his experiment succeeded: He had discovered the plate did indeed cause over-reactivity of a kind.

10. How Dare Those Boys Play Outside

Nevada doctor Daniel Hansen was at work when his sons, ages 8 and 10, asked their mom if they could play at the end of their their dead-end street. Mom said yes, and off they went—until a neighbor called 911 to report two unsupervised children. Firefighters raced over to sheepishly escort them home. The men apologized, then added they would be reporting the family to law enforcement. Dr. Hansen's mom, Assemblywoman Alexis Hansen, needed no further prodding to co-sponsor Let Grow's Reasonable Childhood Independence bill in the Nevada state legislature. The law ensures that parents who let their kids do "reasonable" things like play outside cannot be charged with neglect unless they put the kids in obvious and likely danger.

The bill passed in the Nevada House with bi-partisan support, stalling in the senate. But it went all the way in Oklahoma and Texas. Those became the second and third states to follow the lead of Utah, which passed the country's first free-range parenting law in 2018. Now one tenth of American kids live where they are guaranteed the right to independence.

This coming year, Let Grow hopes to pass similar bills in Colorado, Nebraska, and South Carolina.

Stay tuned and wish us luck: 2022 could be a much better year for Free-Range Kids!