In the age of helicopter parenting, things that were once a normal part of growing up — walking to school with friends, biking around your neighborhood, and walking to a nearby park to play — have become the very things that can prompt a call to child protective services, get parents arrested, or worst of all, in some states, have children removed from their homes.
But the good people of Utah don't want that to happen in their state. That's why they just passed America’s first "Free-Range Parenting" law aimed at protecting families who want to participate in the controversial child-rearing method. Free range parenting advocates say it encourages self-reliance, confidence, and independence in children.
Those of us over 40 called it... childhood:
"Free range parenting" is simply PARENTING--the way virtually all kids were raised before Gen Xers became helicopter parents in droves, preventing kids from doing normal things like walking to school, playing outside & riding their bikes by themselves.https://t.co/urwSvbN5dE— Mark Pitcavage (@egavactip) March 26, 2018
The unofficial founder of the free-range movement is journalist and "Free-Range Kids" mommy blogger Lenore Skenazy, who wrote a piece for the New York Sun some 10 years ago about letting her nine-year-old son find his way home from downtown NYC on the subway.
That piece kicked off a maelstrom of controversy, with some people wanting to turn Skenazy in for child endangerment. It also unwittingly galvanized a movement of parents who wanted to return childhood to the common sense roots they remember, allowing their kids to learn to be self-reliant in the same ways they did as children.
Skenazy, who now heads a non-profit called Let Grow and whose mission is to "end the culture of overprotection," celebrated the win on her blog:
We have changed the course of parenting — and law. Loving moms and dads in Utah do not have to worry that they will be arrested or investigated simply for trusting their kids to walk to school, play outside, go to the park. Only 49 states to go!
Skenazy also tweeted resources for people in the 49 other states who might want what Utah's having:
If your STATE or TOWN wants to go Free-Range like Utah, here is a proclamation to take to your lawmakers, along with some arguments for why we don't want to arrest parents who let their kids walk or play outside:https://t.co/r1NMCygx7Z pic.twitter.com/ayHnlNwiQi— Lenore Skenazy (@FreeRangeKids) March 27, 2018
Utah's new bill, signed into law by Republican Gov. Gary Herbert on the March 23 and unanimously approved by the state's House and Senate, takes effect May 8 and specifies no age limits.
According to the Associated Press, the bill's sponsors say they left the bill:
...purposely open-ended so police and prosecutors can work on a case-by-case basis.
Still, there are parents who worry about the times we live in and the willful neglect of children:
But happens to that poor, “free range” kid when he or she gets abducted by the wrong person?— Sadhana Ginde 🙏 (@SadhanaGinde) March 26, 2018
This will be taken to the extreme and used as a way for parents that don’t care about their children to get away with neglect and other forms of abuse. I’ve seen it as a foster parent.— David Hunter (@davidhunter5908) March 26, 2018
This is a thing? I trust my kids.. It's everyone else that I'm concerned about.— Steve Evert (@SteveEvert1) March 26, 2018
Utah's bill basically states that it's not a crime for parents to use their best judgment as to whether or not their child is mature enough to do things like play outside, wait in the car for their parent, or walk to school without adult supervision. Legislators did make it clear that the bill is not a free pass for neglect.
As Rep. Brad Daw (R), told the Salt Lake Tribune:
If there are clear signs of abuse, obviously that is grounds for action, and in no way is excluded [from the law].
For those confused as to why this law had to be enacted in the first place, Monica cleared it up for everybody:
Ok everyone relax with the “why is this a law” or “I use to run around all day unsupervised” here’s the deal... for parents who want to let their kids run around and play unsupervised they actually can get in trouble and other parents always giving the side eye...😩 also I want— Monica (@Mkcl0111) March 26, 2018
In fact, Daw decided to pursue this legislation after seeing parents in other states being charged or under investigation for allowing their kids to do things that many parents grew up doing. Like the Florida mom that was arrested and charged with neglect in 2014 for letting her 7-year-old walk to a neighborhood park and the Maryland couple who were accused of neglect for letting their 10 and 6-year-old children walk home together without adult supervision in 2015.