Police Threaten Mom Who Let Daughter Ride Bike to School

Lenore Skenazy is a person I’ve mentioned a time or two before.  She’s a writer on child rearing, among other things and maintains the blog Free-Range Kids.  As the name implies, Skenazy advocates what to me has always made perfect sense – parents knowing when to butt out of children’s lives and let them be kids.

Skenazy isn’t advocating anything irresponsible.  She’s just asking parents to loosen the reins a bit.  Don’t schedule every minute of a child’s day; let him/her be alone or with friends.  Don’t oversupervise; allow the kids to find themselves away from their parent’s watchful eye.  Skenazy wants parents to make sure the kids are safe, but once they are, take some time out and just leave them alone.

Of course she gets a lot of like-minded parents writing in to her blog to tell their own stories, some of which make the blood boil.  She says,

As the founder of Free-Range Kids, I often hear from parents being investigated by the cops or child protective services simply because they let their children play outside or walk to soccer practice.

With the police and CPSA assuming the power to micromanage family life, it should come as no surprise that they do exactly that.  And sure enough, right on schedule, I find this.

It seems that, on August 25th, Teresa Tryon of Elizabethton, Tennessee answered a knock on her front door.  There was her 10-year-old daughter who was supposed to be in school, with a police officer.  But it wasn’t the girl who’d done something wrong, it was her mother.

What was her crime?  Allowing the girl to ride her bicycle to school.  The officer told Tryon that “in his judgment,” it wasn’t safe for the girl to ride her bike to school.  So Tryon called the police department to inquire just what laws she or her daughter had violated.

Major Verran of the police department returned Ms Tryon’s call.  She said he told me, “He had spoke with the District Attorney’s office who advised that until the officer can speak with Child Protective Services that if I allow my daughter to ride/walk to school I will be breaking the law and treated accordingly.”

She asked, “What law she would be breaking to which the answer was ‘child neglect'”.

Child neglect.  I think the Elizabethton police might want to refresh their memories about just what “child neglect” consists of in Tennessee.  In fact, I’ll help them.  Here’s the statute.

(a) Any person who knowingly, other than by accidental means, treats a child under eighteen (18) years of age in such a manner as to inflict injury commits a Class A misdemeanor; provided, however, that, if the abused child is eight (8) years of age or less, the penalty is a Class D felony.

(b) Any person who knowingly abuses or neglects a child under eighteen (18) years of age, so as to adversely affect the child’s health and welfare, commits a Class A misdemeanor; provided, that, if the abused or neglected child is eight (8) years of age or less, the penalty is a Class E felony.

(c) (1) A parent or custodian of a child eight (8) years of age or less commits child endangerment who knowingly exposes such child to or knowingly fails to protect such child from abuse or neglect resulting in physical injury to the child.

In short, section (a) refers to anyone who inflicts injury on a child, section (b) refers to anyone who adversely affects the child’s health or welfare and (c) refers to anyone who allows someone else to do (a) or (b).

Since Tryon’s daughter wasn’t injured and her health or welfare wasn’t affected, where’s the “child neglect?”  The answer is that there wasn’t any.  Tryon was just doing what any normally responsible parent might do – allow a 10-year-old the freedom to take herself to school.

But when it comes to kids, Big Brother knows best, or at least thinks he does.  Just think of Maryanne Godboldo in Detroit.  Big Brother knew she should have given her daughter powerful psychotropic medication, and when Godboldo decided to parent her child differently, CPS came down on her like a ton of bricks.  Many weeks later, that case has just about been resolved in Godboldo’s favor, but the point is clear – when CPS decides something, regardless of how erroneous, the full weight of the police and courts will be used to support that decision and against the parent.

So Teresa Tryon had best listen when Major Rusty Verran tells her she’s breaking the law by allowing her daughter to ride her bicycle to school.  She’s doing no such thing, but neither was Maryanne Godboldo.  But that didn’t stop CPS from snatching her child or the police putting her in jail.  It didn’t stop her having to hire attorneys to defend herself.

And so it may be with Tryon if she’s so intemperate as to insist – as Godboldo did – that she’s a fit mother who has the right to decide how to raise her child.  Oh, she’ll prevail in the end because she’s done nothing wrong.  But what will happen in the meantime?  Police, handcuffs, arrest, jail, courts, charges, lawyers?  Where will her daughter be then and how much trauma will it cause her?

We all know that Tryon can beat the rap but she can’t beat the ride.  More outrageously, neither can her daughter.

Decades ago, the American family started to fall apart.  That scared a lot of people as well it might, particularly because of its effects on children.  It didn’t take long for us to call the police and CPS to do what we trusted parents to do before.  That meant an enormous encroachment by the state into family life of a type and an extent never seen before.

Look at the police officer’s words to Tryon.  In his “judgment” the girl shouldn’t ride her bicycle to school.  That is, he’s substituting his judgment for that of the mother, and his has the weight of the law enforcement establishment behind it.

And the horror stories just keep happening.  In only the rarest of instances is the state a better parent than the parent.  Its decisions are typically made by CPS caseworkers with no ties to the family or the child.  The caseworkers are underpaid, undereducated, undertrained and overworked.  They owe no loyalty to parents or children and, like most bureaucrats, seek first to cover their you-know-whats.  That’s a poor combination for ensuring the welfare of children.

Sometimes parents abuse their children; sometimes they neglect them to a criminal extent.  We’ve all read the stories.  In those cases, the state can’t sit idly by; it must act to spare the children further injury.  But that’s not what went on in the Godboldo case and it’s not what’s going on in Tryon’s.  Those cases and countless others exemplify the naked, wholly unjustified exercise of state power at the expense of parents and children.

In any society that values freedom and justice, that would be totally unacceptable.

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