Parent Shaming in the Chicago ‘Burbs. [VIDEO]

Parent Shaming in the Chicago ‘Burbs. [VIDEO]

Parent Shaming in the Chicago ‘Burbs. [VIDEO]

Corey Widen thought she had the good life in Wilmette, Illinois, a tony suburb of Chicago. And she probably still thinks so, even though she went through parent shaming hell recently, thanks to a nosy neighbor.

Widen, a 48-year-old home schooling mom, thought she would teach her 8-year-old daughter a little pet responsibility. So she sent Dorothy out with their Maltese puppy, Marshmallow, for a walk around the block.

Enter the neighborhood Gladys Kravitz, who called local authorities. Lo and behold, when Corey Widen opened her door expecting to find Dorothy’s playdate, she saw police standing there instead.

parent shaming neighbor

The police, to their credit, didn’t press charges. However, the call also went to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, who set off an investigation. They wanted to see if Corey Widen was neglecting her children.

parent shaming mom
Corey & Dorothy Widen with Marshmallow.
Credit: abcnews.

Appearing on ABC’s Good Morning America, Widen explained how this parent shaming got way out of hand:

“The initial call was for an unattended 5-year-old, and once they knew I didn’t even have a 5-year-old, it should have stopped there. I don’t think it should have made it past the hotline that a little girl walking her dog needs to be investigated.”

Exactly. Widen went on to tell viewers why she allowed Dorothy to walk the puppy by herself:

“This was something we did to start giving her more independence because I didn’t feel she had enough, so I wanted to make that happen.”

And just how dangerous is Wilmette, Illinois, where the Widen family lives?

The violent crime rate in Wilmette is lower than the national average by 90%. Moreover, in 2016, there were no kidnappings or murders. None. And 2018 projections are even lower than 2016.

Corey Widen’s story is not unique, however. Chicago author Kim Brooks, visiting her parents in Virginia, left her 4-year-old in her car briefly on a cool day, and a stranger called police to report her. Brooks wrote about her experience in a new book, Small Animals: Parenthood in the Age of Fear.

It’s all part of the trend known as “parent shaming,” and it’s even worse thanks to social media.

Some parents, thankfully, are fighting back. The state of Utah recently passed a “free range parenting” law, which gives parents the freedom to be, well, parents to their own kids. 

Imagine that! Kids can do the same things I did when I was growing up — like ride my bike downtown to the local library. Or walk home from school with my brother. Both places were at least a mile from our home. We also got to play outside in the summer, but only until, as my mother admonished, “the streetlight comes on.”

Oh, glorious childhood freedom!

I think abduction fear mania started in the 1980’s, when I was a young wife and mother. We heard the story of how little Etan Patz vanished from his New York City neighborhood in 1979. There was the story of how paperboy Johnny Gosch disappeared in Des Moines, IA, in 1982. And how could anyone forget the horror that befell 6-year-old Adam Walsh, who was abducted from a Florida Sears store in 1981. Authorities found only his severed head in a canal.

The fear even touched our family.

We were living in Wichita, KS, in the early 1990’s. Our eight-year-old daughter was playing in the front yard with a younger girl when a man approached in a car and told the girls to get in.

Our daughter told her friend to run, and they both ran home. I called the police, who immediately responded. We were the first of several to report this man, but eventually the police caught up with him. He was never able to harm a Wichita child.

These kind of occurrences terrified every sentient parent in America, even though statistically these events were — and still are — very rare.

Two decades later, smart phones and social media entered everyone’s life, and parent shaming began. It wasn’t enough to mind your own kids, now you were given license to police everyone else’s, too.

I don’t envy today’s parents. They know they should limit their kids’ time with video games and electronic devices. And they know that their kids really should be playing outside with friends. But then they have to worry about the parent shaming ninnies who call police and child protective services for “neglecting” their children.

We didn’t have high tech toys when I was little, and our lives weren’t quite as opulent. But our parents never had to worry about parent shaming. And I think in many ways we had much richer childhoods during that simpler time, too.

Written by

Kim is a pint-sized patriot who packs some big contradictions. She is a Baby Boomer who never became a hippie, an active Republican who first registered as a Democrat (okay, it was to help a sorority sister's father in his run for sheriff), and a devout Lutheran who practices yoga. Growing up in small-town Indiana, now living in the Kansas City metro, Kim is a conservative Midwestern gal whose heart is also in the Seattle area, where her eldest daughter, son-in-law, and grandson live. Kim is a working speech pathologist who left school system employment behind to subcontract to an agency, and has never looked back. She describes her conservatism as falling in the mold of Russell Kirk's Ten Conservative Principles. Don't know what they are? Google them!

12 Comments
  • GWB says:

    how could anyone forget the horror that befell 6-year-old Adam Walsh
    Yes, and I think his father is to blame for a lot of the “Stranger Danger” fear that erupted across America. He turned his son’s disappearance and murder into a weekly TV show*. Every single week, often in the prime time hour, there he was, telling us about all the murderers and kidnappers on the loose. Of course, I could easily come up with an hour of crime cases each week, across this huge land of ours. (I’m talking about outside DC – if you start there, you won’t even get out of the capital building before your hour’s up!)

    But, people have trouble with the concept of context, and many struggle with statistics. In a land of (now) 300 million, if you had a crime rate of .0.01%**, that’s 30,000 criminals! But that is best represented as “you need to get 100,000 people together to find even one criminal. And that’s before you begin introducing clustering effects (bad neighborhoods vs good neighborhoods).

    So, today’s parents were raised in fear. And they have now raised their children in that fear.

    I don’t so much mind people watching out for the neighbor kids. That’s a GOOD thing. The problem is the ratting them out to the authorities. If you want to know about a kid wandering about your neighborhood… go out and talk to them. Heck, you can tell a lot just by how they respond to that simple act. (I still keep an eye on the kids around my house. I have an inkling which house each belongs to, and would gladly go talk to a parent if I thought their kid was a problem or in danger. I’ll call 911 if there’s a true emergency.)

    (* Walsh did what he did out of a sense of doing a better job nabbing criminals, and I don’t really fault him for that. And his show did some good, too, publicizing wanted criminals so they could be caught. But a constant barrage of it from all over the country, and delivered to your living room, as if it was all local news helped create a false sense of the level of criminality.)
    (** Real violent crime rate is about 0.3%, and property crimes about 2.5% – with 2/3 of that being larceny-theft – according to 2016 stats from the FBI. So multiply my numbers appropriately. Then account for clustering. You’d still have to search to find a violent criminal in your neighborhood, I’m betting.)

    • GWB says:

      To put a violent crime rate of 0.3% in some perspective….
      If you filled the Dallas Cowboy’s AT&T Stadium to standing-room capacity (105,000) with folks from every walk of life, there would (on average, mind you!) be 315 violent crimes in a year. That’s less than 1 per day. (I refuse to speculate on how many of those would be attributable to the athletes and coaches…..)
      (There’d be about 5 petty thefts a day – “Hey! That’s my beer!” – and a couple of other property crimes each day. On average.)

  • Blackgriffin says:

    Okay, cue all the comments on how we’re smothering our children by not letting them walk alone around a block in a place like Chicago, “tony” neighborhood or not. An eight-year-old girl has NO BUSINESS walking alone around a block ANYWHERE these days. Whether we want to accept it or not, it’s not safe. Not anymore. Christ, a grown young woman in small town Iowa wasn’t safe going jogging. My small town in Washington state has had some incidents in the last ten years that were horrifying. One of my daughter’s friends barely escaped being taken by some strange man while she was waiting for her school bus at the end of her own driveway. She had to run to a neighbor’s house and the creep got away. Another two children were nearly forced into a car in the middle of the afternoon in a quiet neighborhood. Other small towns around us have had incidents, too. They finally found the body last September of the eleven-year-old who was allowed to walk less than a mile home from her friend’s house in a small town on the coast. Nobody ever saw her alive again. Like it or not, IT’S NOT SAFE.

    • Blackgriffin, I have a hard time reconciling your claim that things have become so dangerous that a kid can’t walk around the block anywhere, with generally falling rates of violent crime.

      “IT’S NOT SAFE!” Of course *nothing* is safe; but blowing risks way out of proportion and hunkering in a bunker teaches helplessness. If we learn to be helpless, we learn to be serfs, not free people.

      • Blackgriffin says:

        Your inability to accept it doesn’t make it untrue. It just means that you, along with many others, are unable to grapple effectively with the changes in our society since many of us were children. It’s not nice to think about and is upsetting, but those are not valid reasons to simply decide not to see what’s obvious.

    • GWB says:

      Your reading comprehension *and* your math are obviously sub-par, since I gave you actual numbers on top of the reasoning in what I wrote. No, it is NOT any more dangerous today.

      Yes, bad things happen. The problem is you can’t stop the bad things. If you believe you can, then you’re living in a progressive alternate universe. The things you describe are anecdotes and the plural of “anecdote” is NOT “data”. The fact you appear* to have had a tiny surge in child predation issues locally doesn’t have any meaning for the statistical risk of anyone else in the universe.

      (* Yes, “appear”, since you give absolutely no context (timeframe, geographic, previous crime rate) or data for your anecdotes. So, I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt by even using that word.)

      Like it or not, IT’S NOT SAFE.
      No kidding, Sherlock! It’s something many of us call LIFE. You don’t get out of it alive.
      Over-protect your child if you must, but 1) PLEASE do not infect all of your neighbors and friends with that fear, and 2) understand you’re helping to raise a person unaware of reality, and that’s going to come back and bite them in the end.

      • Blackgriffin says:

        You know, you can disagree with someone without being an ass about it. Try it sometime.

        • GWB says:

          Sorry, but you sound like you’re offended to be told the truth.
          So, I won’t apologize for any of that.

          And I wasn’t an ass at all. (Unless you mean that bit about reading and math. In which case…. nah, still just telling the truth, not being an ass.)

          The “changes in our society since many of us were children” aren’t what you think they are. It is NOT less safe.

          And I think this statement is hilariously un-self-aware:
          those are not valid reasons to simply decide not to see what’s obvious
          Since I gave you *actual numbers* for perspective, and you responded with anecdotes.

  • Walking the dog around the block… I can’t fathom how helpless *adults* have become. It’s the adults, not the children, who are helpless.

    As a first grader I used to walk unaccompanied 1/2 mile to-and-from school in a town of 60,000. Big deal. All my classmates did as well. In junior high it was a full mile, on foot or bike, and since we had split shifts it was in the dark on winter mornings.

    I know a guy from a much smaller town – every Friday in summer his folks would drive him, his brothers & sisters, to the nearby mountains, let them out with a bunch of camping gear, and drive off, returning Sunday to pick them up.

    When I was in high school my parents dropped me off with my younger brothers at a cabin w wood stove for heat and no running water bc we wanted to go earlier than they could join us; we had to get cabin heated, cook, etc. And we even had my .243 with us (horrors)!

    This sort of thing doesn’t faze normal children, but that it sounds surprising to average adults today shows how deeply progressive idiocy has infiltrated our culture.

    • GWB says:

      This sort of thing doesn’t faze normal children
      Sadly, it does faze a lot of children today. At least, once they’ve gotten into an indoctrination center, or their parents are the sort of omnipresent worry-warts that won’t let them take risks.
      But, no, a child has very little fear naturally – until reality or teaching puts it in their heads. We teach so they don’t have to learn from reality.

      (Note, though, we teach so they don’t have to learn from reality. We don’t bubble-wrap them so they never encounter reality.)

  • scott says:

    “the plural of “anecdote” is NOT “data”… I am SOOO stealing that GWB!

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