The nanny state is hard at work in Rhode Island, telling parents how long they can leave their children unattended, or if they can leave them alone at all.
A bill is being debated there right now that would make it a crime for a child younger than age 7 to be alone in a car, while additional legislation proposes that kids under age 10 could legally not stay home alone. If the legislation passes, even older kids could no longer be home alone at night.
Private preschools won’t be left out of the scrutiny of the law, either: If the temperature drops below freezing, it would be illegal for kids to be permitted to play outside.
Lenore Skenazy, an author and public speaker who runs the popular parenting blog Free Range Parenting, says on her blog of the legislation, “At last, our precious children, from pre-K through elementary school, will be safe from outdoor recess during the long winter months. The kids can rest inside quietly, like invalids.”
Boston-area mom Sharon Finberg argues for a return to the days of good old parenting when it comes to little kids playing outside, telling LifeZette, “Whatever happened to common sense, and dressing for the weather?”
Rhode Island legislators say they're just catching up to other states that have enacted similar laws to keep kids safe. Illinois put tough laws on its books in the 1990s about kids being home alone, and other states followed.
"We have kids constantly home alone. It’s a danger," Rhode Island state senator William Walaska, who introduced the home-alone legislation, told Yahoo News. "Imagine they open up a cupboard and there’s some chemicals in there."
Nineteen states currently have laws against leaving kids alone in cars.
Sen. Leonidis Raptakis, a Democrat, originally wanted to impose a fine of up to $1,000 if a parent or guardian is caught leaving a child alone in a car, or stripping the offender of a driver’s license. After a public outcry, the senator amended his proposed legislation to copy a Texas law that still makes it a misdemeanor to leave a child alone in a car — but gives a grace period of 5 minutes.
"If you have a child under 7, they can usually get themselves out of a vehicle," Sen. Raptakis told LifeZette. "If a parent needs to run into a CVS, a drugstore, for 5 minutes, that’s usually okay. But longer than that, 10 minutes, is not. An animal isn’t allowed to stay in a hot car. Why should a child?"
"There are a lot of very, very careless parents out there — they just don’t care," Raptakis continued. "In many states there is a fine for leaving unattended young children in a car."
Melissa Smith Synott of Reading, Massachusetts, told LifeZette, "This legislation feels way too intrusive to me [the being home alone part, more than the car part]. It completely depends on the kid. My older son was fine to be alone for short periods of time when he was 9, but I didn't do the same with my younger son because he was just not as mature and responsible at the same age."
The new Rhode Island legislation seeks to take away that discretion, mandating a one-size-fits-all prescriptive for child safety — and no matter what socioeconomic bracket citizens are in. If you are lower income and can’t afford a sitter, be prepared to drag your children everywhere. Also, be prepared to tell your boss you can’t work a night shift because your 13-year-old would be home alone.
"Basically we are punishing people who don’t have the resources to be helicopter parents, as if helicopter parenting is essential, which it’s not," Skenazy pointed out on her blog.
Boston-area mom Rachel Gray echoed that point. "This brings up the quandary over a two-parent working household. The intent is understandable, but potentially discriminates against the socioeconomic reality of many families."
Skenazy is firm on the ludicrous nature of legislating parental decisions. "These laws are preposterous," she wrote on freerangeparenting.com. "They assume it’s the government’s job to dictate family life. They criminalize maturity in children and common sense in parents and turn mundane decisions — like running out to do an errand — into legal minefields."
Child welfare agencies may quickly become overwhelmed by new cases if the legislation passes, stressing an already burdened system.
Boston mom Marianne McLaughlin Downing weighed in on the difficulty of making legislation match real-world situations: "There probably is a difference between being alone in the car where the car is out of sight of the parent, and alone in a car that you have in view, or are monitoring. No matter how 'common sense' you want legislation to be, there will be common sense exceptions to it, idiots who will ignore it and do worse — and rare, tragic things that happen in spite of it."
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