Shove your kids outside and have a party: A new Utah law declares that free-range parenting isn’t neglect
Proponents of “free-range parenting” tallied a win this month when Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed a bill into law that allows parents more freedom to leave their kids unsupervised. The so-called “free-range parenting” law, which passed unanimously in both the state’s House and Senate, is the first in the country that specifically outlines–at least in some detail–when it’s okay to let your kids explore solo.
But before you leave your infant in the woods to be raised by wolves, you should know that the law sets pretty clear boundaries between what’s legal under the new law and what’s neglect (hint: the wolves thing is neglect). According to the bill, a kid “whose basic needs are met and who is of sufficient age and maturity to avoid harm or unreasonable risk of harm” can now do the following things without their parents facing legal issues:
- Travel to and from school alone (including biking).
- Travel to and from commercial or public recreation facilities (like a park or swimming pool).
- Engage in outdoor play.
- Remain in a vehicle unattended (as long as the child is nine years old and not in danger of hyperthermia or hypothermia).
- Remain home unattended.
Other than the bit about leaving children alone in vehicles, the law doesn’t specify or suggest appropriate ages at all, leaving it open to parents (and in worst case scenarios–judges and the courts) for interpretation.
“I feel strongly about the issue because we have become so over-the-top when ‘protecting’ children that we are refusing to let them learn the lessons of self-reliance and problem-solving that they will need to be successful as adults,” Republican state senator Lincoln Fillmore, who wrote and sponsored the bill, told Yahoo Lifestyle.
Proponents of free-range parenting rejoiced at the news of the law, which goes into effect on May 8. Lenore Skenazy, the woman who coined the term and wrote a book on the topic, was among them.
The free-range parenting movement, which began about a decade ago, was a reaction to helicopter parenting as well as a few notable cases when parents were accused of neglect or even arrested after letting their children roam. These cases are still happening: last summer, a Virginia mom was charged with neglect after leaving her baby in a car for three minutes when she ran into a convenience store (with the car in her line of sight). In a 2016 case, a Manitoba mom was investigated for letting her three kids (ages 10, five, and two) play in a fenced back yard unsupervised.
The movement has also gained traction since reports were released that our children are safer than they have ever been – though detractors believe that crime has decreased because of parents’ increasingly hover-y tendencies.
Why was Utah the first state to pass a free range kid law? It may have something to do with the state having the highest birth rate in the nation (17.2 births per 1000 people), due both to its Mormon population and its large population of young people. Culturally, these big families might just be more ready to grant kids more independence earlier, from playing outside alone to getting to school on their own.
But before you leave your kids in the car for mere minutes while you pick up your dry cleaning 30 feet away, be wary of your own state’s laws. According to The Associated Press, there aren’t any similar bills in the works in other states right now, though Arkansas tried and failed to pass one last year.
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