If I went to jail every time my kids went out alone, I'd be a prisoner for life

Aug 5, 2014 at 1:30 p.m. ET
Image: Jonathan Parry/iStock/360/Getty Images

When my kids were younger, they walked to elementary school by themselves. They played at the local park without me. They stayed home alone after school. Apparently, the cops should have been called. Parenting isn't criminal but the latest news report is.

Nicole Gainey let her 7-year-old son Dominic walk to the local park alone. He had a cell phone. When Dominic passed a local pool, people asked where his mom was. Nervous, Dominic ran to the park and proceeded to play. Then the cops showed up.

Learn more about this mom charged with child neglect >>

Gainey is being charged with child endangerment. Are you kidding me?

My kids have been going out alone for years, so where are the handcuffs? Apparently I need them, and not in a Fifty Shades of Grey kind of way.

Growing up, I relished the independence my parents gave me. At the age of 9, I walked to the store by myself with a small grocery list and some extra spending money to buy a cookie at the bakery next door. By 11, I took the train by myself a few hours each way to shuttle between my divorced parents' houses. When I left for college halfway around the country, I did just fine.

My kids are independent, too — they should be. They walk to school and hang out at home alone. Granted, they are older than Gainey's son, but if you think they only started hanging out by themselves or with their friends without parental supervision only yesterday, you are very mistaken.

Read how my kids take the subway alone >>

Now I understand that for parents of little ones, the idea of leaving kids out of your sight for even a moment is terrifying. I was the same way. But sooner or later, parents need start letting go. It's important for our kids, and for us. (It's probably much harder for us than it is for them — at least it was for me!)

When parents feel it's the right time to let their kids take baby steps on the way to independence, they shouldn't have to worry about someone calling the cops.

I live in Chicago where sadly stories of actual neglect, endangerment and especially violence are in the news daily. Maybe this happens where you live, too. If it does, then you know child protective services and law enforcement resources are strapped to help these kids.

Bottom line? Let's save charges of child neglect for when they are really needed. Letting your kid walk to the park alone is not a crime.

More on independent kids

Give your middle-schooler more freedom
Why helicopter parenting is hurting your kids
How to avoid being a helicopter parent