I never knew it when I was growing up, but it turns out I was a “free-range” kid.

That term has been coined by parents reacting to so-called “helicopter parenting,” in which adults continually hover over their children’s daily activities.

Such stultifying nannying would have driven me crazy, and I can only imagine the effect it has on children subjected to it today.

I grew up in a small city with a pocket-sized municipal park two blocks down the street, and a bigger one, with tennis courts and a public swimming pool, just a 15-minute bike ride away.

Except for family picnics, I never remember going to either park with a grown-up.

And during the school year, there was no bus service for city kids, so I walked five blocks to grade school, 10 blocks to junior high and almost 20 to the high school.

Apparently, all this time I was in deadly danger and didn’t know it. And so were all the other kids I knew, who lived under the same rules I did: “When your homework’s done, you can go out, but come back when the streetlights go on.”

These days, every parent in my community would be in jail — at least, if the official treatment some “free-range” children in Maryland have received is any guide.

In a stunning example of intrusive nanny-statism, the two daughters of Danielle and Alexander Meitiv of Silver Spring, Md., were snatched up on April 12 by police, who apprehended them at 5 p.m. as they walked home from a park less than a mile from where they lived.

Intercepted three blocks from home, the girls, ages 10 and 6, were held for six hours, missing supper, before being reunited with their parents.

It wasn’t the first time. On Dec. 20, the girls were walking the two blocks home from a different park when police stopped them and drove them home.

The Meitivs, who are believers in raising “free-range children,” were ordered to keep their children under direct supervision until a Child Protective Services investigation was concluded.

After the probe found no actual abuse, the Meitivs resumed letting their offspring roam, until a report by a neighbor that there were girls “on the loose” led to further police and CPS action.

The Meitivs have now been charged with “unsubstantiated child neglect.” That means the state will keep an open file on their case for the next five years and continue to “monitor” the family.

Yes, it is possible to be too lax with the security of one’s offspring. Polls show many Americans favor close supervision of children, perhaps as a reaction to a spate of stories some years ago about rampant child abduction by strangers.

But surveys show only a tiny percentage, 0.1 percent, of missing kids are actually taken by strangers, according to an April 14 Washington Post story headlined, “There’s never been a safer time to be a kid in America.”

The vast majority of missing-juvenile reports involve runaways, and most actual abductions involve custody disputes between parents, while violent crime rates are far below what they were 20 years ago.

So, if my children had been treated as badly as the Meitivs’ girls, we already would have moved to a state that valued freedom. But the Meitivs are made of sterner stuff.

According to Reason.com, the website of the libertarian Reason Foundation, they are considering suing for harassment.

The site quotes their pro bono lawyer, Matthew Dowd, as saying, “The Meitivs are rightfully outraged by the irresponsible actions of Maryland CPS and Montgomery County Police. We must ask ourselves how we reached the point where a parent’s biggest fear is that government officials will literally seize our children off the streets as they walk in our neighborhoods.”

Dowd noted that in Troxel v. Granville, decided in 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court explained that “the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment protects the fundamental right of parents to make decisions concerning the care, custody and control of their children.”

He added, “This fundamental constitutional right of parents cannot be infringed simply because certain governmental employees disagree with a parent’s reasoned decision on how to raise his or her children.”

Just so everyone knows what I think about this, I once put my 14-year-old daughter, who had two years of high-school French under her belt, on a flight to see adult friends living in southern France. She had to change planes in Newark and Paris and wouldn’t be met until she reached Montpellier.

She left home a nervous teen, and came back two weeks later a confident young woman — who has since found a career as a teacher in Africa and Asia.

Slap on the cuffs, officer, because I don’t regret doing it one little bit.

M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a freelance writer and speaker. Email at: [email protected].

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