This is the kind of news story that makes your heart hurt. A teen with developmental disabilities was taken into police custody this week. His crime? He hugged a small child in his neighborhood before accusations of kidnapping began to fly.
According to 9 News, the older teen with special needs was out and about hanging flyers in his neighborhood in Westminster, Colorado. The teen approached a small child and gave him a hug. This hug from a stranger scared the child so much that he ran into a neighbor’s house and reported that the teen was trying to abduct him.
As soon as kidnapping was mentioned, police were called to the scene. The teenager was arrested and was later picked up from the police station by his parents. There is still the question of whether or not charges will be filed.
This story is a perfect lesson of where the “better safe than sorry” parenting attitude will get you. In my parenting circles, online and offline, where everyone still fears abductors around every corner as if we were living back in the ’90s, parents always say something along the lines of: “I would never let my kids do fill-in-the-blank. The world just isn’t safe anymore. Better safe than sorry.”
I completely disagree. First and most importantly, as my guru Free-Range mom Lenore Skenazy points out, our kids’ world today is safer than the world we grew up in. There truly are not kidnappers lurking around every corner.
How this teen was unfairly treated is the prime example of “better safe than sorry” parenting gone wrong. While the young child is definitely not to blame for asking for help, it’s strange to see this kind of fearful conditioning play out at the expense of a teen with developmental disabilities.
An innocent hug does not warrant arrest. Even if the young child felt uncomfortable and the neighbor determined that the police needed to be called, an arrest should never have been made. This is the point where paranoia stepped in to replace common sense. A teen with special needs was degraded for what he considered a kind act.
The world isn’t out to get us. Sometimes a hug is just a hug. I want my kids to have a basic understanding of stranger danger, but just as much, I want them to have open hearts and open eyes to extend empathy to those around them. The “better safe than sorry” parenting world is not one I want to live in.