Recently, Facebook exploded when the Bossier City Police asked for help identifying a little boy wandering alone outside. They could not find his parents or guardians.
Within hours, the police posted that the parents had been found. The initial posting went viral with over 4,000 shares and hundreds of comments. It probably will circulate forever.
The child is okay. Not so sure about the parents. Hundreds of strangers with only that brief information condemned them or wrote comments remembering similar experiences in their own lives.
Some had harsh comments, "How does a parent not realize their child is missing? Give this child a new home." "I hope someone can find him a safe home!" "She is going to have some explaining to do." "How do you not know your child is missing? Poor baby!"
"I don't believe anyone who has ever raised a 3 year-old has not had to look for them at some point," wrote Teresa Hargis. So true. A parent's heart leaps into panic when they cannot see their child. It only takes a minute for a child to disappear.
Another video shows a 19 month-old climbing the fence to leave his "safe" backyard play area. That child exhibits fantastic muscle tone and determination in his 15 second climb up the fence and over the wall. Child guard gates do not work for this type of childhood escape artist.
In "Stories I Couldn't Tell While I was a Pastor," Bruce McIver writes about his daughters. As toddlers, the two wanted to go everywhere and see everything. To keep them safe as preschoolers, he hired the best fencer in the area to close in the backyard. After the fencer completed a strong, safety fence, McIver stood out front thanking the man for his help. As they talked, the two little girls strolled around the house from the back to join the conversation. They scaled the fence within 15 minutes of its completion.
Another mother wrote that her middle school child slept walked out the door to the bus stop in the middle of the night. The neighbors found him, still asleep. His mother put a lock high on his door to keep him safely inside the house during the night.
A lengthy post told of a young child at 6 a.m. going outside on a cold, wintry day wearing short pajamas and slippers. He walked into a convenience store. No one identified him. The police were called. The short version of the event is that the toddler had pushed a chair to the door, unlatched the chain his parents had installed to keep him safely inside and then walked away to see the world. The parents needed an even better lock.
One insightful commenter wrote: "Consider the likelihood that a very intelligent, curious child was exploring his world." That best exemplifies the type of child that gets away from the safety of his home and parents. The parents will try other measures to keep him safe. It takes a very resourceful parent to protect a child this determined. Some children play happily in playpens, never trying to escape. Others stack their toys and climb out with complete disregard for the actual purpose of the playpen.
Beyond the details of this specific case, consider the reality of toddlers, their curiosity and complete unawareness of the dangers of the world. With that in mind, hold the negative comments until you know more. Even then, choose to compassionately extend grace as parents struggle to find the safe solution their child needs. There is no "one size fits all" when it comes to raising children.
Joan Hershberger is a former staff writer for the El Dorado News-Times and author of "Twenty Gallons of Milk and other columns from the El Dorado News-Times."