An unfortunate event took place this week. A six year old boy’s foot was run over by a school bus. As a result, the boy’s mother who sent the boy and his somewhat older brother unsupervised to the bus station was arrested and charged with child abuse and neglect. It turns out that in 2012, sending a six year old and his older brother to await the school bus by themselves is an unacceptable parenting standard warranting parental arrest.
This made me think back to the 1970s, when I grew up in Israel, and from the age of six walked by myself to the bus station and took the public bus — not even a school bus — to school. Luckily, my foot was not run over by a bus. But even if it had I doubt my parents would have been arrested or even blamed for inappropriate parenting. All my classmates either walked by themselves up to twenty minutes to school or if they lived further away, as I did, took the public bus.
There is no doubt parenting norms have changed since I was a child. Many now recognize that parenting has become more intensive, involved and monitoring. In an article titled Over-Parenting, my co-author Zvi Triger and I worried about the impact of these changes on legal standards. We recognized that while intensive parenting carries some advantages and may be a suitable parenting practice for some, embedding it in legal standards would impose it on those culturally unwilling or financially unable to endorse it. We recognized that intensive parenting is mainly an upper-middle class practice that for others could become over-parenting.
Is it a good parenting norm to accompany young children to the bus stop? probably yes. But aren’t the real questions: Is the specific child mature enough to be safely standing at a bus stop ? Is the neighborhood a relatively safe neighborhood traffic and crime-wise? And also, can parents afford to wait with their child in the morning or do they have no choice but to rush off to work for an early morning shift in order to support their families? These are questions to be answered by parents not by the law.