Intensive Parenting as a Legal Standard: Arresting Mother for Sending Children to Bus Stop

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.


You may also like...

7 Responses

  1. Jimbino says:

    I think Amerikan kids miss out on a lot of life. I have a home in Teresópolis of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where kids can still be kids and where there are impromptu soccer games on many streets, and where every adult tends to watch over kids. I’ve often referred to it as “kid heaven,” compared to our Amerikan gated communities, helicopter parents, and SUVs contaminating the streets taking kids to school and soccer practice.

    My youth was well spent on the South Side of the “False Confession Capital of the United States.” I remember selling Christmas cards door-to-door from my red wagon at the age of 10 and taking the IC downtown, walking alone throughout the Loop, Grant Park and the lakefront all the way to the Museum of Natural History, every Saturday–something that today’s kids are sadly deprived of. Nothing bad ever happened to me as a young boy in the two-year period it took to see all 23 different presentations at the Adler Planetarium, and I got to know the Chicago Public Library, Marshall Field’s, Carson Pirie Scott and every hidden cafeteria and automat in the Loop.

    My father, who started bagging groceries in 1924 at age 12 on the same South Side, only encouraged my solo adventures. I never heard any adult complain about young kids wandering alone throughout Chicago.

    I’ve come to consider current notions of captive kid-rearing in the USSA a form of child abuse, though someday, I suppose, our kids will be recounting their SUV trips with nostalgia.

  2. Frank says:

    This is a bizarre ruling. I see it as one more effort of the state to slough off duties to already overwhelmed families (ala Hacker’s book “The Great Risk Shift.”

    Interesting parallels here with the worries about kids playing it “too safe:”

    And, more speculatively, with the idea that kids who are in “Too clean” environments when young don’t get to develop a good immune system.

  3. This is absolutely horrendous! I walked to school every day, starting in kindergarten (1995). Even then, I was the only kid who did, and other parents treated my parents like they were crazy and irresponsible.

    This whole attitude toward parenting (i.e., pro-smothering & hovering) reminds me of a commentary I read on CBS News back in June, located here:

    Although I don’t wholly agree with Lucas, I think her ideas are better than the ones underlying all of these overbearing policies. I still can’t believe those parents who protested when a high school principal sent 18-year-olds home alone on a train. Really? It will be an unfortunate America when these children fail to ever grow up.

  4. Gaia Bernstein says:

    Frank, I think you are right. This is part of two other related trends. First, responsibility being shifted to parents by the state. We see it a lot with schools with the amount of school involvement expected from parents and laws criminalizing parents for truancy. Second, over-protection of children to an extent that paradoxically becomes harmful to children.

  5. PrometheeFeu says:

    This is very far from my area of expertise, but I thought SCOTUS had recognized some constitutional protection for parental rights/authority. If that’s the case, how can such a law not be a violation of the Due Process rights of parents? Abuse and neglect don’t appear to be defined precisely enough to provide sufficient notice. (or maybe they are)

  6. David Pimentel says:

    Unfortunately, the child neglect and endangerment statutes are extremely vague, and parents’ decisions are consequently subject to second-guessing by prosecutors (in charging decisions) and jurors (in criminal verdicts). For a discussion of this issue, specifically the problem of criminal liability for parents, see

  7. lexus says:

    I am a mother of 11 children 10 are my own and one is my niece also took care of one of her brothers and sister when the foster parents kicked them to the street at 14 one at 16 kept them till they turned 18 now the same state have took my kids from me and said im not doing a good job in raising my kids for reasons like missing school with out doctor note or leaving my 16 year old with the kids for an hour to go food shopping then they even said because one of my kids have bad foot order I didn’t do my job to kept them clean enough or feed them enough none is under wgt or the things they wore was to big or to small I am now fighting to get them back im doing this on my own was going back to school started my own biz and was moving to a bigger home with is why they said they took them my home was only a 3 bedroom that I bought at the age of 18 I feel as if some need help like I did I belive they are getting off base of what is good parenting and what is not on what is doing the best you can at the time just to add I have 2 that was getting a and b in school others where getting rewards and 2 have some problems in school the others where at home with me and 3 just started school this year I think I was doing an ok job could have been better my income was less then 2,000 a month paid all bills and made sure food was in the home sorry this is so long just so upset