THE BLOG
08/06/2014 10:39 am ET Updated Oct 05, 2014

Uncle Sam Parenting 101, How Much Is Enough

Right down the street in my town of Port Saint Lucie, Florida, a mother was cuffed and taken away from her home due to her 7-year-old son's walk to the Sportsman's Park, a popular place for baseball, swings and monkey bars. Single mother Nicole Gainey was charged with child neglect, facing up to five years in prison for permitting her son to walk to the park. Granted, it was quite a walk for a little guy alone with a cell phone but is that what we call a "cuff and arrest" offense, threatening to take a mother away from her family for up to five years? This is the route the little guy rides his bike to school every day; is that acceptable or should the government dictate rules for bike riding to school, criminalizing common everyday parenting?

A walk to the park in the eyes of Uncle Sam is under legal scrutiny. Pedophiles in the area they say; certainly a serious concern but is the arrest and punishment of possibly taking a single mother from her children a wise decision? Should the mother be taken from her children to spend time in jail for neglect necessitating foster care for her children? That's quite a lesson.

You hear chimes of "I walked that far to school every day. I put my baseball mitt on the handlebars of my bike. Played all day and went home when the street lights went on."; Never more, never more.

It makes us wonder what the balance should be of Uncle Sam's interference or protection of children.

Ohio father Jeffrey K. Williamson Jr. puts his kids on a church bus but one of his sons didn't make it to church, jumped off instead to go to the Dollar Store. Cuff dad; make a spectacle of him in front of screaming kids, resulting in him losing his job, his way to support his family. The children are now afraid of police officers fearing they will take away their father. I did that very thing as a kid, picking up a church bulletin but hanging out with friends down the street. Little did we know that a generation away would put our parents in danger of convictions, jail time and loss of employment for juvenile indiscretions.

Texas mother Tammy Cooper spent 18 hours in jail for letting her 6 and 9-year-old children play in their front yard while she was watching them ride their motor bikes from afar. Police claimed her arrest was for child endangerment. They took her away while Cooper's daughter held on to the officer's leg begging him to stop. The charges were dropped but the notoriety, reputation and humiliation remains.

Perhaps the most egregious example of Uncle Sam overreach is the case of Connecticut teenager, Justina Pelletier. A sudden debilitating illness with a second medical opinion resulted in 16 months of what Justina says,"No child should go through" in state custody. Conversations were limited to what she could and could not talk about, restricted to a psychiatric ward. The result; further deterioration of her health.

Justina missed 16 months of school, seeing and talking with friends and her beloved family and dog. She missed two teenage birthdays that cannot be replaced. After exhausting all potential controls and attempts to send her to foster care, the State of Connecticut Child and Family Services finally sent her home to her parents, sisters, friends and her dog.

Many, if not most of these cases are withdrawn, making a statement about the expectations of parenting with few legal criterion. But for those that have been arrested, what remains is the humility and downright destruction of a reputation. And the loss of time with family and friends of these children cannot be replaced.

In a fascinating survey on Debate.org, most people (78 percent) agree that people should get a parenting license to have a child, similar to a dog or gun license. (22 percent) oppose. It is what would happen when someone is denied a parenthood license that gets more interesting; perhaps removal of the child to foster care, perhaps wards of the state, inability to conceive, all possibilities.

There is a dangerous trend with authorities taking parental control and rights. We need to define and decide what overreach is and what is acceptable day-to-day child rearing and law enforcement.

Schools placing controls on acceptable lunches and fund raising limits in a dozen states, an offshoot of the Department of Agriculture limits on calories and fats, an application of Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act and the Let's Move Program.

Many think Uncle Sam is sending us down the path of parental control. Nonetheless, it is a critical consideration for the American public to decide on the breadth, limitations and clarity of government and law enforcement.