Charles Smith and Lindsay Pembleton assumed their children, aged 7 and 9, would be fine on a Cape Cod beach for an hour. Now they are each facing a charge of reckless endangerment of a child for that assumption.
The Niagara Falls, New York, family was on vacation in North Truro, Massachusetts, this summer, at a public family beach called Head of the Meadow, when parents Smith and Pembleton decided to call it a day. According to a report in Cape Cod Times, their two boys weren't quite ready to pack it in, so the parents decided to let them stay for a while longer before letting them walk back together on a pedestrian path to the campground where the four of them were staying. They told the kids to stay out of the water and then headed back themselves, leaving the boys to play for an hour longer, unsupervised.
It doesn't sound too strange, right? Who among us, if we were lucky enough to go to the beach on vacation as a kid, did not wander off on our own with older siblings or cousins while our parents went back to whatever accommodations there were to unwind with some margaritas and kid-free conversation?
Well, those days are over, apparently.
A lifeguard spotted the two kids with wet shirts (it was raining) loitering around a food truck and called the cops. The parents and police Sergeant Carrie DeAngelo arrived simultaneously, and the sergeant told them that "leaving two boys ages 7 and 9 alone, without anyone knowing, without proper shelter from the elements and without any way of contacting them, placed them in danger.”
For that reason, they'll be arraigned in court this month in Massachusetts.
The biggest bone of contention here is whether the kids were in actual danger. The lifeguards clearly had an eye on them. They had to have in order to tattle on Pembleton and Smith. Essentially the parents are being arrested for the potential dangers their children were theoretically in, which include, according to the police report, but are not limited to: "dog bites, shark sightings, lewd conduct and people taking pictures of children." Also, let's not forget — and we must never forget — the biggest bogeyman of modern parenting: the sexual predator.
The problem with assessing the potential danger to our kids is that all of us are guilty. Children are most likely to die of an unintentional injury caused by things like automobile accidents, and yet we've not yet heard an instance where a parent was arrested for buckling their kids into the car. Kitchens and bathrooms are full of opportunities to drown or light yourself on fire, but we're still allowed to let our kids be in them, even unsupervised.
Kids are most likely to be preyed upon sexually by people they know, but no one's calling the cops on you when you send them to school or camp or youth group... unless, of course, you let them walk there alone.
Helicoptering your kids is a thing, and it's rapidly becoming the thing. If you happen to subscribe to the school of thought that kids need to build some independence and that an unsupervised stroll to the grocery store might do them some good, you probably don't fear child snatchers and packs of wild dogs.
But you might — rightly, it seems — fear something that's becoming much more likely: having the cops called on you by someone who is looking out for your kids, and not by just keeping a watchful, neighborly eye, but by ensuring you're punished for letting them off their leashes.
The truth is, despite our perceptions to the contrary, it's a pretty safe world for our kids, and no matter what you do, you cannot eradicate every type of danger from their lives. But there was a time when it was OK for two brothers to play for a little while on a beach full of adults and under a lifeguard's watchful eye, and nobody had to go to court over it.
It's worth considering that the consequences of seeing their parents go to court and potentially jail for letting them play a little while longer will do far more damage to these boys than the potential threat of a shark bite.
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