The Logical Conclusion of “Welfare Reform”

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135 Responses

  1. Avatar Kazzy says:

    The problem with these cases is they often fail to recognize that parents might be choosing the least-bad option. Is a 9-year-old playing without a parent at a nearby playground ideal? No. But it is probably better than her spending her summer on an iPad in the corner of a McDs. Is an urban library with homeless squatters ideal? No. But it is probably better than the streets for many kids. “Get a babysitter/day care provider/summer camp!” is useless advice to parents who can’t avail themselves of such options for whatever reason.

    I don’t think I ever had a babysitter who wasn’t related to me (usually my older sister, sometimes my grandmother). I grew up roaming the neighborhood. You knew which houses you could go to in a pinch and which to avoid because the cranky old folks hated kids. You knew which streets to cross and how. We’ve all become so scared, so anxious. Fear has become an industry. And it — far more than some kid playing unsupervised on a playground — is doing great damage to our kids.Report

  2. Avatar Kim says:

    Running wild like feral wolves?

    Yep, it happened. But, if you take off the rose-colored glasses…
    These were the kids sent home during a hurricane (they walked.)
    The kid who would convince the “dumb one” to piss on a live (snapping) electrical wire — and later realize his head wasn’t quite all there afterwards. (during the hurricane, to be fair).
    Kids who had guns for hunting, and a rod to fish with, and would disappear out into the local woods.
    Also, kids who caved a pedophiles face in, in self-defense.

    Running wild like feral wolves is surprisingly apt.
    [All examples cited are from NJ, ymmv.]Report

  3. Avatar veronica d says:

    I roamed, quite a bit. Actually, that was the norm. To “go out an play” meant to jump on my bike and head out into the neighborhood. In fact, there was even a spot of woods I could get to with a 20 minute ride. Yay! And yes, my mom sent me to the store from time to time, never for booze and ciggies, but for milk and sugar.

    Be home by dinner!Report

  4. Avatar bookdragon says:

    This story blew me away when I read it. Makes me a little worried too. I let my kids (10 and 13) go to our neighborhood park on their own. It never occurred to me that someone might have me arrested for child endangerment!

    At 10 I had a bike and was allowed to ride anywhere within certain bounds (largely defined by large busy streets). I went to the local park to meet friends and play all the time and neither I nor any of those friends had a parent with us. According to my parents, when they were that age they got kicked out of the house after chores and lunch and told to come back when the street lights came on (and this wasn’t in a small town – they grew up in a blue collar neighborhood just outside Pittsburgh). Both of them had extended families living in their homes so there was always someone at home, but the women had cleaning and washing and shopping and cooking to do, so they did not have time to follow their kids around everywhere.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

      My parents probably wished I rode my bike more. I was content to sit at home and read.

      There was a local park I used to walk to though when I was in elementary school. My elementary school was too far from my house but I do remember walking to the houses of other kids from time to time.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      Pittsburgh’s pretty nebby. There would have been a couple of folks (usually old) “keeping an eye out” …
      (now whether this eye was to prevent the kids from destroying property, or make sure no “bad dudez” were around… I make no judgement)Report

      • Avatar bookdragon says:

        ‘Nebby’ – I haven’t heard that since I lived there!

        That is true. People knew their neighbors and kept an eye out, whether to make sure all was well or just to know what was up. We don’t live in Pittsburgh, but our neighborhood is somewhat similar in that most people know each other and for a lot of the kids’ friends getting to the park is walk through the treeline behind their backyard. So maybe I’m not an irresponsible mother for not building an armed surveillence drone to follow my kids everywhere 😉Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        If I had a young kid, (5-8), I’d tell them to come home if they didn’t see someone at the park. But there’s nearly always someone at the park, at the playground…Report

  5. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Will the kid be better off now that the mom is in jail?

    If the answer is not an unqualified yes, it seems to me that this is a situation that calls for mockery of the police, mockery of the woman who called the cops, mockery of the particular policeman who made the arrest, and pretty much making the names of all of the panicky idiots public.

    If the answer is more like “well, it’ll probably make the life of the child worse”, we can add that we should call these people “child abusers” to the above list.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

      The Internet commentary seems to be largely on the mom’s side from liberal and libertarian bloggers. I haven’t seen any conservative commentary. Chait, Conor F, Jessica Grose, and LGM came out for the mom. I’m sure other places did as well.

      Now the question I always have is whether and when internet outrage works and will get the mom released. Internet outrage seemignly worked in the story last week about the kid who was charged with manufacturing and distributing child pornography because he sent pictures of himself to his also underage girlfriend.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        I suppose that I should also add “I’m pretty sure that a police department that sees this as something worth arresting someone over after investigating it is a police department with too many funds.”

        Defund the department by the amount of money wasted by these jerkwad child abusers.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


        How do you propose doing this? Police funds are largely an issue of municipal and state funding and it is unfortunately clear that the people of South Carolina think this is a good allocation of resources. Do you propose a budgetary review committee that is above politics?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        it is unfortunately clear that the people of South Carolina think this is a good allocation of resources

        What are you basing this on?

        I’ve not seen any articles talking about how this was a good bust. Not even one.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

        My proof is indirect but:

        1. All the stories I’ve read mention that the arrested mom was criticized in the video news stories on local TV.

        2. The people of South Carolina vote for whom they vote for and S.C. is one of the most socially conservative states in the nation. Their elected leaders keep on voting for more police funding, etc or so it seems so yeah….Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

        Chait, Conor F, Jessica Grose can say all they want but none of them live in South Carolina and none of them ever probably will live in South Carolina.

        I think you vastly overestimate how many people would be attracted to your “anarchism”Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        I think you vastly overestimate how many people would be attracted to your “anarchism”

        You’d be surprised at the number of kids I know who grew up latch-key kids and who would have been worse off for having their parents arrested for it.Report

    • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

      This falls square under the whole “it’s for the children” & “if it saves just one life” thought process.

      This is one area of our law we should really purge, this criminal encoding of the precautionary principle. Until there is an actual harm, we should always be hesitant to file charges. What the cop should have done was ask the little girl where her mom was, ask the mom if she knew the little girl was at the park, give the kid a lollipop* for being good, and write up the report.

      Instead, a mom doing the best she can is in trouble, spending/losing money she most certainly does not have nor can afford, a child is sleeping away from her home for the sin of being independent & (from what I’ve heard) pretty damn responsible for a kid her age, and that said child has just to distrust the police/government a bit more.

      All so a bunch of busybody yuppies can feel better that they “did something!”.

      *actually, better not, she was playing at the park and could choke on the candy.Report

      • Avatar Damon says:


        Bingo! I can’t agree more. I also grew up in the 80s. I was riding my bike when I was 9-11 ish I think alone in the streets. When it snowed, we sprayed water on the snow covered road to make a sled run and sledded down it at a nice speed, all the way down into the road my street dead ended into…and into oncomming traffic…at night.

        The adults put a stop to turning into the cross street but didn’t stop up from sledding down our street. And of course, I was hunting deer and carrying a loaded rifle when I was 13-saftey on, no round chambered, and after I took a firearm saftey class.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        I was riding my bike when I was 9-11 ish

        You crashed it into skyscrapers?Report

      • Avatar Damon says:


        Yes, I was a holy terror back in the day.Report

  6. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    A few random thoughts…

    First, I’d recommend a bit of caution before we all go into full condemnation mode. It appears that, for the moment, the story being repeated is from Slate, and is based on this accounting from a local TV station. It also appears for the moment that all of the facts that we know so far about why the woman was arrested are from a nameless concerned citizen. Might it be true that we’re going to find out that everything is just as Slate is saying? Sure. But it’s also worth noting that this appears to be the same news station that reported that the Enders Game-assigning SC junior high teacher was showing his class porn clips of men ejaculating into women’s faces that Erik and I both wrote about last year — a story that ended up being entirely made up by another nameless concerned citizen that the station just ran without bothering to verify. It seems wise to me to wait until actual local journalists cover the story to see what happened.

    But moving past that to the meta, while I agree that child care is an issue that needs to be dealt with in this country, I’m not sure that a girl playing by herself in a park is the best signaling of that. Indeed, it seems to be the same as the “arrest the woman” reaction, only from the opposite direction. Learning that a nine year old was playing by herself in a park should not, I would argue, be a call to make sweeping laws about anything.

    Otherwise, even though I liked the post and found myself nodding along with most of it, I do have a huge quibble here:

    “One thing I’ve noticed is that something about becoming a parent has caused a decline in their ability to reason at times. Every now and then my facebook feed is bombarded with Amber Alerts.”

    Yeah, because outside of parents forwarding Amber Alerts, Facebook is a sea of young single men and women forwarding well thought out, rational commentary. This is clearly a pet peeve of mine (and something I’ve discussed with your brother as well), but people who have never had children really need to stop with the “let me explain to you what parenting is all about” scolds.Report

  7. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    The problem as always is money. Many people seem to like these sorts of laws but don’t want to fund summer programs for kids with poor and working class parents. It’s the worst combination of laissez-faire and societal interference in the family possible.Report

  8. Avatar Mo says:

    This seems to imply that the child and family support system has gotten worse since the era of the latchkey kid rather than being better or even equal. The family and child support system was at best equal back them, but we thought nothing about a second grader walking to the school bus stop without a parent*. Are there homeless people in urban libraries? Yes. Were they present back in the 80s and 90s? Yes. The thing is back then the world was much more dangerous for children, but there was greater autonomy. This can’t be linked to a rise in two-income households because those numbers are flat since the 90s.

    * Though not necessarily aloneReport

  9. Avatar Roger says:

    I won’t even address Saul’s predictable response that every problem deserves a coordinated big government solution. The Christian Right has their Big Kahuna God solution, the Left has their Big Kahuna government solution. Different denominations, same basic religion. I chalk it up to human frailty and lack of imagination.

    What is more productive to discuss is what the angle of growing up as a “feral wolf.” As a middle class boy in the seventies, I grew up riding my bike all over town, exploring the woods, sneaking into the gravel pits, playing in scary abandoned houses, skateboarding the hills, digging forts, and mapping out the drainage ditches and tunnels under the streets. When we didn’t go out roaming, we organized our own sports with the other neighborhood kids. Kickball, baseball, bike races, tag, hide and seek, target shooting and such. My mom kinda knew I was out somewhere, but she sure as hell didn’t control me. Nor did she want to. Nor would I let her.

    That is how a boy grows into a man. By seeking out the unknown, exploring, looking for adventures, organizing activities for the neighborhood, getting into trouble and back out again, learning from mistakes and such. Most of us made it through and were better for it.

    I think we are raising a bunch of mamby pamby dependent whiners, who will never learn to take responsibility of themselves. No wonder so many of them expect the government (or God) to step in to do everything for them.

    Enough ranting…. Back to lurker status….Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      One of the newer dynamics appears to be that the child, African-American, was playing in a park that was, ahem, *LESS* African-American.

      So the mom gets to go to jail, the kid gets to go to some foster parents for a few years, white people get to have a white park, and Saul gets to call police departments that refrain from doing this sort of thing “anarchist” (don’t forget to point out how South Carolina totally supports the cops doing this sort of thing).

      And I get to suspect that life didn’t used to be this crazy.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

      Yes Roger, lord forbid that anyone have different policy preferences than you.Report

      • Avatar Roger says:

        Maybe we should just pass a law against other opinions.

        On a more serious note, note that my criticism was not on belief in a God or Government. It is against a knee jerk, mindless assumption that this is the primary or first place one should go to solve problems. I am fine with solving problems with big government if they can be solved better that way than other ways. Big if, wouldn’t you say?

        More importantly, the downside of government regulations — an argument for them NOT solving problems as effectively as decentralized mechanisms — often revolves around the way regulations and laws eliminate “different policy preferences” between individuals. If you are really serious that people differ in their preferences, then you too might be more circumspect in using governments and regulations and the rule of the majority to solve problems.

        Food for thought…Report

      • Avatar Damon says:

        @saul degraw @roger
        It’s the “there outta be a law” reflex.Report

      • Avatar switters says:

        could be @damon. Or it could be Roger’s assumption that everyone else’s opinion is a result of knee jerk, mindless assumption, while his own is the result of a carefully reasoned and thought out approach.Report

      • Avatar Roger says:


        Actually there is research on this area as a cognitive bias. People tend to have a cognitive bias toward rational intentional agents. This shows up both in their explanations of causes of complex phenomena (unions raised working conditions, president is responsible for the economy, accident caused the traffic jam, greedy bankers caused the crisis, God designed rabbits, etc) and in solutions to problems.

        Most people are discombobulated by the concept or possibility of emergent, spontaneous, or evolutionary complexity and problem solving.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        It’s like when there’s an epidemic of forged documents being used to foreclose on houses, people assume there was a conspiracy to commit forgery, rather than understanding that it’s simply the result of impersonal market forces.Report

      • Avatar switters says:

        That’s great, Roger. And absolutely beside the point, as I am sure you are aware. Even granting the existence of a cognitive bias towards rational intentional agents, or people’s general susceptibility to being discombobulated by the concept of emergence and/or spontaneity, I don’t think it necessarily follows that Saul’s belief that this is something government should handle is a knee jerk, mindless assumption. Do you?Report

      • Avatar Roger says:

        The key phrase was in my opening sentence… “Predictable response.” I certainly am not suggesting recommending a big government solution to a problem is by definition thoughtless or lacks rational grounding. BGS’s (big government solutions) have their place.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      The Christian Right has their Big Kahuna God solution, the Left has their Big Kahuna government solution. Different denominations, same basic religion.

      I suppose this is the point where someone jumps on libertarians for their Big Kahuna market solution, too. I find it a bit tedious, so I’ll try to pre-empt it. Call me a polytheist, or to extend the metaphor, a poly-kahuna-ist.

      Isn’t it crystal clear that in today’s world, solutions to complex interrelated social problems like the ones this story touches on evolve over time from many places, including church and community, including government, including private industry and individual initiative, and other estates of modern life like the media.

      We do not take straight, logical, and direct paths towards powerful and obvious solutions, because the problems solvable in that fashion have been thus solved already. What we have now are more complex and subtle problems that will require complex solutions.

      Low-wage earning single mom has no good solution for care and supervision for her young child while she earns money. That’s a complex problem, not a simple one, because the cost of the direct solution is high. A fast consensus has formed here, which I for one join, that perhaps sending the kid to the park was what reasonably seemed to be the least bad choice available to single mom under these circumstances.

      Part of the solution is encouraging people to develop attitudes about children being able to engage in robust activities such as you describe and generally developing a culture more tolerant of kids doing things. Part of the solution is socially encouraging people like Single Mom here to build better social networks to get support for child-rearing and assist her in balancing child-rearing and income-earning responsibilities.

      And perhaps, part of the solution might be someone figuring out how to make a profit while providing affordable day care services for kids, notwithstanding the prohibitive expenses of insurance and physical facility maintenance associated with that activity. That seems like a damnably difficult riddle to solve to me.

      But maybe part of the solution could also be local government stepping in to have some structured, supervised activities for kids available at a low or subsidized cost. Maybe part of the solution is community groups, like churches, giving Single Mom a hand with tending to her kid while she works. Maybe part of the solution is a sliding-scale minimum income guarantee supplanting existing social welfare mechanisms.

      I’m not much of one for sacred cows, and I don’t think there is a silver bullet to the problems we confront with this situation.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        I suppose this is the point where someone jumps on libertarians for their Big Kahuna market solution, too.

        For the record, my Big Kahuna market solution is “Not arresting the mom, not putting the daughter in foster care.”Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

        I really like this comment Burt.

        Reason ran a post on a survey recently about the political attitudes of Millenials that showed they had all over the map political positions. I think political types like us often overestimate how much time most people spend thinking about their politics and trying to be ideologically consistent. Most people probably have a complete hash of political ideas.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


        The same can be said for my liberal solution which wants to allow single parents to work and for kids to have a place to go to.Report

      • Avatar Roger says:

        I agree 100%, Burt. Very well said.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        Wait! We are missing the bigger issue here!
        @saul-degraw read something on & his eyes didn’t sally forth from his head & self-immolate on their way to the floor.


        Saul, are you OK? Do you need therapy to help you recover?

        (Obviously, I’m teasing).Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        Two things: first, outstanding comment Burt. Really.

        Secondly: Roger, how can you agree with this comment when it’s a critical response to what you previously wrote? For the life of me I can’t figure out how you can do this type of thing, yet you seem quite comfortable with it.Report

      • Avatar Roger says:


        Burt’s comment did not contradict my thoughts on the matter. If one assumes it did, then it would be a misunderstanding of my thoughts. Saying that, I am well aware that Burt may have thought he was contradicting me as well.

        My endorsement of his comment was completely genuine. If I had written more on the topic, I could not have said it better.

        Yes, libertarians also tend to a knee jerk faith in markets. Check (I strongly disagree with the libertarians on this accord and have elaborated on it extensively)
        Yes, the problem is complex not simple. Check.
        Yes, the problem will take diverse experimentation and learning. Check.
        Yes, the panoply of solutions could include government solutions big or small. Check.

        In all the years of my participation here, I am not aware of ever thinking or saying anything substantively contradictory to this.

        Addendum…If I wrote that some handymen have a bias toward using duct tape to solve every problem they encounter, and someone responds that some problems really are best solved with duct tape, why would someone assume this contradicts my statement?Report

    • Good to see you back, Roger! I know that I, personally, would love to see you being more commenter than lurker again, for what it’s worth.

      On your points, I fully agree. I’ve been trying to put my finger on what, exactly, caused this cultural shift. What’s so weird is that, as annoying and wrong as I find this cultural shift, as a parent, I find myself going along with it in the moment.

      I find this notion that children must be within sight of their parents or their daycare providers at all time to be appalling, and yet when my daughter wants to play by herself outside, I feel this incredible fear-driven pull to check on her every 2 or 3 minutes. It would be easy to say that this is because of fears of social judgment, but it’s not – I’m genuinely fearful that something will happen to her, even though I know that there really isn’t anything to worry about.

      Then again, I’m certain that this fear is in turn a function of the fact that Kids. Just. Don’t. Roam. Back in the day, roaming was such a socially driven thing – kids roamed with other (usually slightly older) kids, and rapidly grew more independent as they learned better what to do and what to avoid, etc., etc. And if you misbehaved or got into a jam of some sort, the neighbors either yelled at you or told your parents: The Wife’s father was a postman who pretty much saw everything, and as I understand, there wasn’t anything that happened in his sight that didn’t eventually make its way back to the relevant parents. They definitely didn’t call 911, though they also were probably more likely to do something – neighbors nowadays aren’t really that likely to call the cops, but I suspect they’re also not very likely to get involved at all since there’s a damn good chance they couldn’t identify the kids’ parents even if they live two doors down.

      I blame the internet in no small part for that last bit there. Media driven hysteria about child safety plays a big role in the rest, but there’s something else that I can’t put my finger on that caused this cultural shift – somewhere along the lines, we stopped trusting our neighbors, and I don’t know why. And, as Will T. pointed out a few weeks ago in his post, this cultural shift isn’t limited to how we view kids – it’s also drastically affected how we view parenting and the need for adults to have free time.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

        But did your father in law always ring twice?

        I think part of it is design. Newer suburbs are more sprawled out and it makes it harder and more dangerous for kids to roam. When my parents were looking at houses in the East Bay, there were several nice cul-de-sacs that were essentially right off major freeways and this is not conclusive to roaming. My older inner-ring suburb had a central town that was easily walkable to and with plenty of sidewalks and no freeways. There was also a neighborhood pool with supervision.

        Summer camp especially sleep-a-way camp started when NYC wanted kids to get fresh air during the summer.

        Roaming was not necessarily danger free. I’ve seen old pictures of what are essentially kids playing in open sewage. Summer was a breeding ground for polio and scarlet fever.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        You heard about the kids running after the trucks spraying DDT? apparently it smelled sweet…Report

      • Avatar Roger says:

        The cultural paradigm has certainly shifted, for both better and worse.

        I would love to give more freedom, responsibility and such to my grandson, so he could learn and develop from the experience and occasional failure. But his mother won’t allow it. So my work is more subtle..

        Clearly, there are benefits in kids not getting harmed, infected shot, burned, or killed. The point is there are also costs, and these include self reliance and the type of maturity and confidence and ability to handle calamity that are essential to a boy becoming a man.

        And I wouldn’t be surprised if this comes across as controversial to those who were raised like precious little eggs.Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        Well to be fair, Roger, we all started from eggs.Report

      • @roger Agreed completely.Report

  10. Avatar Road Scholar says:

    It’s definitely a different world than the one I grew up in. I can play the “why, when I was a kid…” game with the best of you, growing up in (itsy-bitsy, teensy-weensy) small town/rural Kansas.

    We’re definitely more safety conscious than earlier generations. Some of that is very good, such as the improvements in highway safety and car design. But some of the evolution in parenting standards, for lack of a better term, borders on downright paranoia.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

      Ah yes the famous town of Yellow polka-dot bikini, Kansas.Report

    • Avatar morat20 says:

      I once heard a woman of my parent’s generation complaining about modern parks and kid’s playgrounds, reminiscing about the stuff her kids (ie, those my age) played on.

      Indeed, I recall them. Steel slides that could cause first degree burns in the Texas summer. Concrete under monkey bars (all the better for really breaking that bone. My kid took a fall off one into that lovely padded stuff they use now, and still cracked his wrist. He’d have shattered it on concrete), and of course rust and jagged edges everywhere.

      The blinders of nostalgia — I’m not sure WHY I’m supposed to prefer dangerous playground equipment to identical but safer stuff. Perhaps I should have asked her.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

        I hated metal slides when I was growing up for the same reason. There was a local playground that was all wood and metal. The equipment was fun but scary because bee’s liked to turn cracks into hives.Report

      • Avatar Hoosegow Flask says:

        I received second degree burns (blisters) from a metal slide once during a picnic, producing howls of laughter from my wonderfully caring family and obligatory reminders at every get together.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        People who are in favor of dangerous playground materials and the more free-range childhoods of yesteryear seem to think that somewhat dangerous fun as kid teachers them to be tough, self-reliante, and other buzzwords relating to independence and bad assery. The last New York Times Sunday Review had an editorial on why every kid needs to be a delinquent in order to learn right from wrong.Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        Yeah nostalgia distorts. Some things are better safer and better now. My elementary school playground has asphalt under all the monkey bars, slides and swings. Even as kids we thought it was dumb as hell. Why do kids need to break a bone just because they slipped or have massive road rash from getting off the slide. It has since been replaced with wood chips and *gasp* sand.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        In past people said that such accidents build character. Lots of people still believe that.Report

      • Avatar Roger says:

        One of my class mates burned his face off while character building.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        In past people said that such accidents build character. Lots of people still believe that.

        It’s not wholly ridiculous. If you’re never exposed to rough stuff in your youth, you may not develop the skills to deal with rougher stuff as an adult.

        [“Rough stuff doesn’t have to be physical, and of course it should be within proper boundaries. Asphalt under the monkey bars is surely outside those boundaries, not because you could break an arm, but because you could break your neck or skull. (We used to play Red Rover on asphalt. I hated Red Rover.)]Report

      • Avatar morat20 says:

        I’ve read a few defenses of bullying that boil down to ‘Hardship builds character”Report

      • Avatar Mo says:

        Because there may be value in kids learning how to adjust what they do based on the environment, as opposed to assuming the environment is always going to be safely padded? Kids will adjust what they do based on the surface. Kids will do crazier stuff over padded surfaces than asphalt. When I was a kid, we would occasionally play football on the street in the cul de sac that I lived on. And sometimes we would play on the field at the local elementary school. Even then we were smart enough to play tackle at the latter and only play two hand touch at the former*. So even though grass is the safer surface, there were more injuries when we played on grass.

        Is it crazier to think that exposure to a bit of danger and potential harm may have benefits just like there are benefits to exposures to bacteria and pathogens?

        * Which didn’t prevent me from getting a flat tire, tripping and skidding on the street 10 feet and shredding my shirt and chest.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        I’m not saying that kids should be totally coddled but the character building arguments don’t seem particularly well thought out to me. Like morat20, it can be used as a way to justify ignoring a lot of really bad things like bullying or worse. It also undermines and undervalues things like gentleness, kindness, empathy, and sympathy. Kids need to know that many times there going to have to adjust to less than ideal situations but training them for dog eat dog world doesn’t seem that great either.Report

      • Avatar ScarletNumbers says:


        Better Red Rover than Red RocketReport

      • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

        Red Rover really was a crazy game. I remember playing it in kindergarten (with our teacher organizing teams). Kids were getting clotheslined and she just told us to shake it off. I think the only childhood game that was more dangerous was crack-the-whip. That one always seemed to result in a broken limb.Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        We had a charming little kids game we called Kill the Guy with the Ball. Don’t worry ladies, a girl could be a Guy in this game. I think it was mostly under 10-12 that we played it. Basically one guy had the ball and everybody tried to tackle him to take the ball. Whoever got the ball tried to run around avoiding getting tackled, rinse and repeat.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        We used to play KTGWTB (which was the polite name; the more common one was “Smear the homophobic slur”.) But on a grass field where the worst danger was mud.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        The worst thing about Red Rover was when someone let go just as you crashed into their hands, so you’d lose your balance and fall forward. Onto the asphalt. I always prayed they wouldn’t call my name, and if they did, I always slowed up before I reached them, so I almost never actually broke through. Not sure why I even played. Because all the other boys were, I guess. I wonder how many of them were only doing it because we all were? It was probably just a collective action problem awaiting a cool kid to say, “fuck this, I ain’t playin’.”Report

      • Avatar Roger says:


        You are trying to make it an either or. It is an and but.

        A MUCH more extreme example is like fighting in a war. Yes it builds character. It can also get your head shot off or leave you with lifelong trauma.

        I emphasize the extremity of the example, but on a much smaller and less dangerous scale the same thing exists for each of us growing up. We learn to overcome adversity and fend for ourselves and are better for it. The cost is every once in a while some kid gets his face burned off.


      • Avatar ScarletNumbers says:


        Considering that popular TV show on Bravo in 2003, I don’t think that “homophobic slur” is one anymore.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        @mike-dwyer Red rover indeed seems to be fantastically ill-conceived childhood game.

        But for my money, organized and supervised cruelty finds a pinnacle in dodgeball — particularly played indoors in a classroom with desks shoved off to the perimeter of the room to create a “killing floor,” as happened in my fourth-grade class. Six kids got whammed so hard they hit their heads on the desks.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        If we really want to have kids compete in organized cruelty we should really just reintroduce the ludi of ancient Rome. We are after all an empire and there are traditions to be maintained.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        I got a re-introduction to dodgeball subbing in Arapaho.

        The problem wasn’t actually kids getting hurt. The problem was kids’ propensity to act hurt when nailed by someone they don’t like or thinks doesn’t like him. Headaches, headaches, headaches.

        It was actually the most fun* at the alternative school for delinquents. They were pretty solidly on the up-and-up.

        * – By which I mean something other than headacheX3.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        The cost is every once in a while some kid gets his face burned off.

        Another harmless gasoline fight ends in senseless tragedy.Report

      • @will-truman

        For me, the problem with dodgeball wasn’t really getting hurt, it was being afraid of getting hurt.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Which is legitimate. In Arapaho, participation was voluntary.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Better a tragedy than a statistic…Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        “Dodgeball is kind of a stupid game, isn’t it”:

        Another innocent gasoline fight turns tragic:


      • Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

        I think that one of the differences between “character building” and “traumatic” is whether it’s an isolated event or a chronic part of daily life. One vigorous game of dodgeball builds character. You do it and you survive, even if you hate it or get a little bit hurt. Great. Mandatory dodgeball every day for a quarter when you’re the small kid everybody likes to hit probably doesn’t build character. It probably reinforces that you’re the little kid everybody likes to hit and that you’re best off hiding.

        Likewise, one isolated high-intensity confrontation with a large obnoxious bully may build character and confidence or some other type of life skill. Months or years of daily bullying by the same large obnoxious bully eventually wears you down and breaks you.Report

      • @troublesome-frog

        Yes, I think that’s about right. For me, one of the worst things about dodgeball is that I thought my own fears were illegitimate and that there really was nowhere to turn for safety during the once-a-week games.

        That said, I don’t want people to get the impression that my entire school-life was bad, even during the “dodgeball era.” I had a great time at school, with only a few exceptions.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        We played Red Rover on grass, and you weren’t allowed to clothesline anyone. hands were kept pretty much at torso level (generally near the waist), and it was pretty fun (a heck of a lot more fun than softball, which I never was any good at).

        in terms of cool playgrounds…

        Done properly, they’re generally without monkeybars, but full of cool pyramids and other stuff.Report

      • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:


        I actually enjoyed dodgeball when I was a kid, but I played baseball so I had a decent arm. A game I enjoyed a lot more though was something we called ‘Infinity’ which had similar rules to dodgeball except there were no teams and there was only one ball. If you caught a thrown ball the player that had been out the longest could come back into the game so the game went on a long, long time (hence the name).Report

  11. Avatar ScarletNumbers says:

    I think there is a difference between letting your child play in a park while you are at home and sending your child to the park alone during your entire work shift.

    I remember when McDonalds used to have actual playgrounds on site. If only this one had one.

    I think that she should have left the child with the child’s father, or her own mother.

    it is the responsibility of government to help give affordable options like free or low-cost summer camp. This will mean raising taxes though so it is not going to happen.

    I don’t see how it is “the responsibility of government” to provide free day care.Report

    • Avatar Patrick says:

      I think there is a difference between letting your child play in a park while you are at home and sending your child to the park alone during your entire work shift.

      Could you elucidate on that?

      I think that she should have left the child with the child’s father, or her own mother.

      Doesn’t this rather assume a few things about the child’s father and/or her own mother that you have, like, literally no reason to assume?Report

      • Avatar ScarletNumbers says:

        Sure. If the child is at the playground while mom is home I can assume that the child wants to be at the playground and can come home whenever she likes. Also if there is an emergency or the weather turns bad, she can come home.

        If the child is at the playground when mom is at work, then she HAS to be at the playground. Even if she is bored, or tired, or hungry. Being forced to be at a playground seems to be being unclear on the concept of playground.Report

      • Avatar Patrick says:

        If the child is at the playground when the Mom is home, and the child’s childhood looks like mine, there’s a nonzero chance that they can’t come home whenever they like because “Go away and let me get some work done in peace and quiet!” was the admonition that led to “going to the park” in the first place.

        Also if there is an emergency or the weather turns bad, she can come home.

        And there’s no reason to presuppose that if there was an emergency or the weather turned bad this girl wouldn’t have just gone to Mickey D’s. Is there?Report

      • Avatar morat20 says:

        Because the kid can find his way home but not to her Mom’s work? The work she walked to the park from?Report

      • Avatar ScarletNumbers says:


        According to the link she was dropped off at the park; she didn’t walk there.


        there’s no reason to presuppose that if there was an emergency or the weather turned bad this girl wouldn’t have just gone to Mickey D’s. Is there?


      • Avatar morat20 says:

        According to the link she was dropped off at the park; she didn’t walk there.
        Goodness me, I stand refuted. She cruelly, evilly, dropped the munchkin off at the park rather than making her walk both ways.

        Here, let me tell you a story — a true one! One day, I had my kid and had a lengthy errand. I dropped the child off at, well — you might call it an arcade — then drove to the location of my errand. My child, without phone or parental support, was alone for hours at a place that was NOT a licensed day care, and without dedicated adult supervision.

        For hours. No way to get home! No way to phone me! Helpless, alone. No siblings to watch him, no relatives keeping an eye on him.

        Should I be arrested? Hint! It’s a trick question! However you answer, you are falling prey to a basic and common cognitive bias. You lack key information — that is, the entirety of my decision making tree — and have only an end result. Kid, alone, unsupervised for hours. Me, busy at some adult thing.

        Of course, in reality there’s an entire decision tree — the story of my day and his day and our lives — leading there. But you don’t know it. So you make it up, fit it into your biases, and make judgement on ME in a way you wouldn’t on yourself — because you know your own internal story.

        (For the record: I was at the dentist, he was a block away playing laser-tag. He could have walked to me in about two minutes if he got bored or out of money, and the reason he wasn’t with me is because he’d seen the laser tag place LAST time we’d gone to the dentist, and he wasn’t having his teeth cleaned that day. Obviously, I should be arrested).Report

      • Avatar ScarletNumbers says:


        I stand refuted.

        Rationalize however you like, but you were still wrong. The only germane part is the part that I quoted.

        Also, I never said the woman in the story should have been arrested. I wouldn’t have arrested you either, at least not for what you described in your anecdote.Report

  12. Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

    Just as an aside – we roamed a lot too. Once we hit about 12 we were allowed to ride our bikes out of the neighborhood and then it was pretty much free-range parenting. On my weekends at my dad’s farm we roamed the woods with BB guns and basically had a blast.

    Regarding the story, this is clearly a case of law enforcement trumping sensible social policy. My wife is a social worker with our school system. She sees cases like this all the time. Usually it’s with immigrant families who don’t know they can’t leave their 9 year-old home with their sick 3 year-old on a school day (or any day, for that matter). She explains U.S. law to them and it usually doesn’t happen again. She also gets plenty of non-immigrant families that make tough decisions like this mother did.

    Someone needs to get her plugged into social services. Arresting her was ridiculous. That’s where the kerfuffle is coming from.

    And with regards to helicopter parenting: It is a huge problem these days, at least among our social group and the parents we know. Kids are over-scheduled, over-protected and the entire family revolves around them. I could climb on that soapbox and stay for days.Report

  13. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Is the general consensus that jail and/or foster care must not be that bad, for the kid being left in the park to be worse than jail for the mom and foster care for the kid?Report

    • Avatar North says:

      Is it opposite day or something?Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      The point of jail is not to improve the circumstances of either mother or daughter.

      The point of jail is to punish, rehabilitate, and deter. We are all likely skeptical about how effective jail is at the last two of those three objectives, particularly in this situation.

      Foster care is to improve the child’s circumstances. Presumably foster parents will take good care of their wards and foster care only ought to be invoked by the government after a showing of breathtaking neglect or endangerment of the child by the parent. Which happens sometimes.

      The emotional fuel of the story is the obvious point that letting your kid play in the park is not a severe enough level of neglect to justify the heavy boot of the state being applied to this family’s throat. There may be more to it than what the OOTW stories write about, but on the face of it, this seems so obvious a proposition as to form the basis of a clear miscarriage of justice.Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        At most this should have been a report to the local CPS. Many CPS, or at least the good ones, only pull children out of homes for immediate danger of which there wasn’t any in this case. CPS often have resources to help parents find day care or problem solve in a way that might lead to a better solution for all involved.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Foster care is to improve the child’s circumstances.

        Foster care is like a ‘D-‘.

        The cases in which a child’s circumstances are likely to be improved are *FAILURES* of parenthood. Abuse. Sexual abuse. Active neglect. Malicious upbringing.

        It’s not a tool to be used lightly or in the case of even D+ parenting because, for the most part, kids are better off with their parents unless their parents are absolute failures.

        To rip the child away from her mother because of *THIS*? That requires malice on the part of those going forward with it.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater says:

      Good question Jaybird. I had similar thoughts when I initially read about the “incident”. I don’t think this has very much to do with welfare (tho it compounds an otherwise existing problem for obvious reasons”) but has a lot to do with punition. If people don’t abide by “the rules” then they deserve to be punished!!111! The goal here, it seems to me, is the punishment while the rules are just taking a leisurely walk in the part. Heavily monitored by their mother.Report

  14. Avatar Chris says:

    Hundreds of thousands of outraged internet commentators talk about how when they were kids, they ran free like feral wolves. I am not sure how much of this is truth vs. rose-colored glasses.

    Heh… city folk.Report

    • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

      I was thinking the same thing Chris (no offense meant to Saul). When I think about the stuff we were allowed to do at a young age compared to what i was willing to let my kids do, it makes me laugh. We were allowed to ride our bikes down three different major roads with 45mph speed limits and no sidewalks on the regular to get to friend’s houses. And the worst part is that I thought my mom was over-protective when we were kids.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Same here: road our bikes all over the place, walked through cow fields, through other neighborhoods, to the grocery store, to the gas station, to the fruit stand, wherever. And because our parents definitely weren’t over protective, we did most of that without ever telling them where we were going. Just a, “Hey, Mom! Matt, Nathan, and I are going to ride our bikes around.” “OK, be back by dinner time. And stay out of the creek with your new shoes!” (Little Chris then runs straight to the creek, gets new shoes dirty, then hops on bike and rides to Kroger’s for a free cookie.)

        There was an early 19th century family cemetery deep in the woods in the back of our neighborhood, maybe half a mile from my house. The graves were so old that a couple of the tombstones were grown into large trees (that is, the trees had grown around the tombstones), and the graves were sunk in. We used to walk out there at dusk telling ghost stories — the creek was used to line up the Confederate dead after the battle, we’d say (I don’t know if this is true, but detritus from the battle, including minie balls, was all around), and their spirits roamed the woods at night — using a rather twisted path, then, if there were new kids, we’d scare the shit out of them and ditch them in the cemetery (it was our version of a snipe hunt initiation). Then probably jump in the creek with our new shoes. Were we assholes? Yes. But we were free-roaming assholes, ranging through the neighborhood after dark, scaring the shit out of each other, like proper country assholes.Report

      • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

        One thing that I think most of us benefited from was that there were still a lot of undeveloped areas in the suburbs. Our neighborhood was adjacent to a 300 acre farm that was mostly wooded. That was our personal playground. Same for most of my friends. It gave us a chance to roam around and stay (relatively) safe. The cool thing was that these landowners knew the kids were romping through their property and as long as we respected the rules about cattle gates and not fishing in ponds without asking permission, they were fine with it. Now they have to worry about lawsuits.

        The craziest thing we ever did was that we once rode our bikes across the bridge to Indiana just to say we did it. That was about 40 miles round trip from my house and took most of the day. That was the only time my mother wasn’t happy but even then it was just because we didn’t tell her first.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        Lord, Mike, you could have stayed and grown up a Hoosier! Soooo close.Report

      • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

        Oh Hanley – you silly boy. To paraphrase Paul Maclean: “I’ll never leave Kentucky, brother.”Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        We had the same run of a cow farm, with the added rule that we had to leave the cows and hay alone.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      The same thought went through my head, then I remembered an older guy I know–in his 70s now–who grew up in an apartment in NYC. He surprised me by saying that as a kid, a pre-teen, he used to ramble all over the place on his own. So maybe the issue is just young city folk–they got soft in Saul’s generation. (Just kidding, Saul! I’m more cautious with my kids than my parents were with me.)Report

    • Avatar Stillwater says:

      Heh… city folk.

      No, I don’t think it’s “city folk”. I grew up about 6 miles from the Loop and about and about 10 blocks to the El. As an 8th grader, my mom let me take the train into the city all the frickin time. As did my friends parents. I remember taking the train to the south side to see a White Sox (night game!) game when I was only 14. We got home at 2 in the morning. I used to ride my bike at ten o’clock at night during summer from downtown back to our house thru some of the worst ghettos in the city. Most of the circle I hing with had exactly similar experiences. I’m not sure I’m rebutting you, or Saul, or what. But I needed to say it, dammit!Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


        I’ve never been to Chicago but as I somewhat understand the transport system, Chicago’s subway goes into the suburbs directly. Boston’s T is a bit like this as well. NYC has heavy rail that goes to LI, NJ, Westchester, and Connecticut and the subway is in the city alone. This does make the city seem like a bit of a different audience.

        That being said, I am sure NYC Metro Area parents are all over the map in terms of whether they let their kids into the city or not alone on the weekends.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        8th grade?!? 😉

        Granted, where I grew up we had fewer things to worry about than one might have within a few blocks of Comiskey.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      What gets me is the expectation of an adult’s time and attention. When I was a kid, we were allowed to *MAYBE* demand one night on the weekend of attention (out to dinner or pizza night at home, a movie, putt-putt, a trip to the tay-stee friiz) and the rest of the time belonged to the parents to do their thing. During the week, we might be able to get away with a request to go to the library, but we couldn’t get away with that two weeks in a row. (Note: parents could demand our time pretty much at will… “we’re going over to the Smith’s for dinner. Be here and showered at 5” or “we’re going to play Boggle tonight” or whatever).

      We were expected to entertain ourselves under the barest of supervision.

      It was more like crate training than anything else. We got fed and we got a place to sleep and occasional walkies but, for the most part, we were expected to go outside and keep it to a dull roar and be home when the streetlamps came up.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Jaybird, from No One’s Expecting:

        How much time did parents [in 1965] spend taking care of their kids? You might be surprised. The average married mother spent 10.6 hours per week on the kids. The average married father spent 2.6 hours per week.

        These numbers may sound fishy, but they’re actually fairly reliable because they’re not theoretical, socio-economic constructs. No, they were composed by actual parents recording their activities contemporaneously in time diaries. you might be thinking ‘That’s crazy, even a mother with a nanny spends more than 10.6 hours per week with the kids.’ But remember that these numbers are the averages for all families – so mothers and fathers with toddlers were putting in lots of hours were balanced out by parents with kids in high school.

        Here’s where it gets interesting: From 1965 to 1985, mothers actually spent less time taking care of the kids (just 8.8 hours per week in 1975 and 9.3 hours per week in 1985) while fathers inched their numbers up a tiny bit, to 3 hours per week. After 1985, both moms and dads started doing more-lots more. By 2000, married fathersmore than doubled their time with the kids, clocking 6.5 hours a week.

        Overall, American fathers have become more involved in raising their children. So much so that, as economist Bryan Caplan jokes, they could almost pass for ’60s-era mothers. But what’s really astounding is what mothers have done. By 2000, more than 60 percent of married mothers worked outside the home. In doing so, they increased their paid work hours per week from 6.0 in 1965 to 23.8. Yet even as they moved out of the house to pursue careers, they also increased the amount of time they spend with their children, cranking it up to a bracing 12.6 hours per week.

        Now, on the one hand, this is a happy development. It’s a good thing to have parents taking a more active role in their kids’ lives. But on the other hand, these numbers explain why parents are so frayed and stressed these days: Because however nice it is to be spending more time with your children, it’s also a rising cost. There are only 24 hours a day and if people are spending more time on kids, those hours have to come from somewhere.

        If you really want to be blown away by mothers, consider this: A working mom today spends almost as much time with her kids as a stay-at-home mom in prelapsarian 1965. And if we were to construct a new statistic-something like “parental hours per week per child-it would really go off the charts. Because of the big drop in fertility, parents are spending more time looking after fewer children.


      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        as economist Bryan Caplan jokes, they could almost pass for ’60s-era mothers

        He is such a funny guy, and not misogynistic at all.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        I’d need to know the context of the joke, but it doesn’t strike me as inherently so. Men are spending more time with their kids, but even with all of the gains they still spend less time with their kids than women did then, which is less than women do now. This is actually the sort of observation I would expect a feminist to make.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        I could be wrong, but my assumption is that Mr. “What was so bad about coverture?” doesn’t think that men acting the way women used to is a positive. Though maybe it’s not really a gender thing and he’s OK with slavery too.Report

  15. Avatar notme says:


    So child neglect is the logical conclusion of welfare reform? Sorry maybe that is some sort of liberal logic but I just don’t see how we get there.Report