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Free range parenting is not for everyone 

A season of worry

School's out for the summer and there is a strong contingent in the parenting landscape advocating for a "free-range" approach to kids. That's right, it's not just about farm animals anymore. Small humans are also being released from the confines of over-scheduling and hyper-vigilance and encouraged to roam freely around their streets and neighborhoods.

The free-range parenting movement garnered media attention when Maryland parents Danielle and Alexander Meitiv were investigated for neglect twice after allowing their two young children to continually walk home alone from a local park. Now, they've been cleared of one of the neglect allegations and the state of Maryland has issued a new policy indicating that Child Protective Services should not get involved in instances of children walking or playing alone outside unless there is evidence that the kids have been harmed. The Meitiv's case has ignited a fierce debate about the benefits and perils of free-range parenting and the rights of parents over their own children.

To be honest, as a mother of color, I find the whole conversation completely unrelatable and ironic.

While free-range parenting might promote self-reliance and independence in children — both admirable and important character traits — parents of color are much more preoccupied with another thing: safety.

You can't have strong, independent kids if they're seriously hurt or dead; and being a free-range kid of color seems like a recipe for disaster. From the recent pool party in McKinney, Texas, to the shooting by police of 12-year old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio, to the killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida, unattended children of color are consistently feared and villainized by police and their communities.

A recent study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology outlines this phenomenon. "We find converging evidence that black boys are seen as older and less innocent and that they prompt a less essential conception of childhood than do their white same-age peers," it explains. Basically, black kids are not perceived as kids at all.

After the death of Freddie Gray while in Baltimore police custody, an image of a black mother beating her teenage son for participating in the protests went viral. Some in the media hailed her as "Mom of the Year" for snatching her son away from the rioting — which turned violent at times. Yet, when asked why she chose to publicly discipline her child that way, she admitted that she was driven by fear. "I didn't want him to be another Freddie Gray," she said.

That's the thing about parenting a black child in America. Above and beyond any ethereal aspirations for self-reliance, independence or happiness, even, parents of black children make decisions based on fear and the knowledge that their kids will not be given the benefit of the doubt.

So, while white parents are arguing about whether or not police and community members should be overly concerned about the safety and well-being of their children, black parents are taking steps to minimize the perceived threat their kids pose. While white parents are encouraging their kids to take risks and experience new adventures, black parents are encouraging their kids to keep a low profile and comply with authority, no questions asked. While the concern of white parents is over-protection by police and community members, the concern of black parents is police brutality and malicious vigilance.

It must be nice to have a suite of options when it comes to parenting styles — but for parents of color in this country, the game of rearing kids is one that's played mostly defensively. A constant struggle to have your child perceived as an actual child, one who deserves the community's care and protection. Other things may fall by the wayside — opportunities and adventures and character development, but at least you can say you have done everything in your power to keep your child safe, and that's what really matters.

The notion of a long, lazy, carefree summer devoid of structure and responsibilities is a luxury reserved only for white parents and their white children. The rest of us must continue to live confined to the cages of institutionalized racism and inequality. We can't let our guard down and encourage our kids to roam freely; the risks are far too great. Even in the summer, they must still be bound by the rules and procedures that we hope will keep them safe or, at the very least, alive. For us, free range is still just for the birds.

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