For many families across the country, the idea of letting their kids freely roam the neighborhood or ride a bike unattended is not something they would ever consider doing. When I was growing up in the 1990s, “stranger danger” was something all kids were warned of, and I was rarely out of the sight of an adult.
However, some parents and educators lament the perceived loss of freedom and independence that happens when kids are so closely guarded. If children always have adults around, how will they learn to resolve problems on their own?
There is a growing movement of so-called “free-range parenting,” which advocates for kids to be able to do more things on their own to build up their skills and confidence in themselves. Now, Utah Governor Gary Hebert signed a bill on March 15 which specifies that it’s not neglectful to let children do things like travel to school, explore a playground or stay in the car unattended.
The law will take effect May 8, 2018, and it’s believed to be the first of its kind in the country, according to the Associated Press.
The bill passed the Utah State House and Utah State Senate with bipartisan, unanimous support.
“This is to prevent in Utah a problem that has happened in too many other states … where parents have been prosecuted, gotten in trouble for doing nothing more than allowing a child to play outside or go to the park,” Rep. Brad Daw, the House sponsor of the bill, told The Salt Lake Tribune. “It hasn’t happened in this state, and this bill seeks to ensure it never will.”
Such cases are not uncommon. In 2015, a Silver Spring, Maryland couple were accused of neglect by Maryland Child Protective Services for allowing their kids to walk home by themselves from a park about a mile from their home.
Danielle and Alexander Meitiv, whose children were then 10 and six years old, saw nothing wrong with letting their children walk home by themselves in this situation.
“We don’t feel it was appropriate for an investigation to start, much less conclude that we are responsible for some form of child neglect,” Danielle Meitiv told National Post.
In Oregon, Erika Doring left her almost-three-year-old daughter in the car while she ran into a store to grab her life jacket as they headed out for a day on the lake. When Doring returned a few minutes later, a police officer issued her a citation for child neglect.
“The pendulum has swung hard in favor of highly protective parenting,” David Pimentel, an associate professor of law at the University of Idaho and an expert on how the legal system addresses child neglect, told Reader’s Digest. “The legal standards for child protection and the agencies entrusted with it are likely to keep it there, despite compelling evidence that it should be allowed to swing back.”
The issue is definitely divisive, with some people saying the fact that a law is even needed says that our society has gone too far. Many adults say that what is called “free-range parenting” was just a normal way of life when they were youngsters. Additionally, what constitutes appropriate supervision depends a lot on where you live.
Parenting experts say that parents should use discretion and adopt a philosophy that works best for their families, taking into account factors like age and individual needs.
“Parents want their kids to be independent, want to give opportunities to explore, but for any parent that’s going to be a personal decision,” Dr. Dave Anderson, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, told “Good Morning America.” “If your 12-year-old is capable of walking home from the bus stop by themselves, that’s something that you might make a decision about where another 12-year-old may be too impulsive.”
What do you think about Utah’s new law? Are you in favor of “free-range parenting”?