In 2011, Lilia Gonzalez* nearly lost her three young children. She considered herself a loving, attentive mother, but one day she made a seemingly harmless mistake that turned into a two-year battle to convince the state of Illinois that she hadnt and wouldnt maliciously neglect her children. The ordeal began on a June morning when Gonzalez, then 36, awoke at 7:30 a.m., startled and groggy.
The ordeal began on a June morning when Gonzalez, then 36, awoke at 7:30 a.m., startled and groggy. Her 16-month-old son had been sick, and Gonzalez slept fitfully; her husband left earlier to start the first of his two jobs. Like most parents, Gonzalez’s mind immediately settled on the day’s many tasks, including taking the children to walk her four-year-old son to the bus stop. And that’s when the panic surged — she had overslept and the bus had already departed.
That phone call marked the beginning of Gonzalez’s “nightmare.” With a single offhand comment, she found herself at the mercy of cultural, social and legal forces that increasingly define parenting as a superhuman feat of constant monitoring. Children, according to this perspective, are only ever truly safe from harm when at their parents’ side.
Long before American children were put on lockdown, they were expected to cultivate independence at an early age. Paula Fass, professor emerita of history at the University of California at Berkeley, traces this tradition back to the 1800s in the book Reinventing Childhood After World War II. Young men, in particular, enjoyed a uniquely American brand of independence, embodied by experiences like Ulysses S. Grant’s, a man who began plowing his father’s land at age 11 and traveled by horse for dozens of miles as a teenager.
As the 1980s and ’90s unfolded, parents also looked on in horror as child abductions dominated an increasingly 24-hour, national news cycle: Etan Patz in 1979, Adam Walsh in 1981, Jaycee Dugard in 1991 and Polly Klaas in 1993. It seemed as if predators regularly prowled the streets, waiting to snatch the nearest unattended child.
Harrell, who was working at McDonald’s while her daughter played at the park, later explained that burglars recently stole a television from her home. “You know, so, she don’t have no TV or nothing to look at no more,” Harrell said. “I thought [the park] would be the safest place for her.”
Thirty years ago, a nine-year-old alone at a park probably wouldn’t have led to a mother’s arrest, but expectations have changed. In the same Mashable/SurveyMonkey Audience poll, nearly 40% of respondents said they were permitted to play outside unsupervised while in pre-school or kindergarten. Yet, only 13% said they would allow their own children to play unsupervised at that age. And even though a majority of the respondents were allowed outside alone prior to middle school as children, a third said they would wait until their kids reached that age to let them venture outside on their own to play. Read more…