Over the last several years, childhood has come under attack by state authorities. Where it was once perfectly acceptable for a parent to send their child down the street to play at the local park unattended, this seemingly benign act is now grounds for government intervention. In fact, horror stories have been told of children taken away from their parents and put into state custody for the mere crime of parents letting their children be children.
Just a few years ago, two Texas parents were charged with a felony for letting their eleven-year-old son play outside. The boy, who was only outside for about 90 minutes, had forgotten his key after returning from school. While waiting for his parents to come home, he passed the time by playing basketball outside of his own home. A neighbor saw the boy and called the police to investigate, which resulted in both parents being arrested. But this is hardly an isolated instance.
In Maryland, another family faced prosecution over the decision to let their children walk to school unattended. The parents were completely okay with letting their children, ages 10 and 6, walk around their neighborhood without parental supervision. However, after a neighbor called the police after seeing the two children walking one day after school, the children were taken into state custody.
As a society, we used to take great pride in teaching our children independence and self-reliance. And by giving kids opportunities to assert their independence, by walking to school or the park alone, they are better suited to tackle the obstacles that await them in adulthood, when whether they like it or not, independence becomes necessary. But the modern nanny state seems determined to keep kids trapped in a state of arrested development.
Luckily, one state is taking measures to protect the sanctity of childhood, by explicitly protecting the right to “free-range” parent.
Utah Protects Free-Range Parenting
Over the last several years, free-range parenting has risen in popularity. After helicopter parenting yielded high-stress and rather coddled young adults, many started wondering if, perhaps, there was a better way. Instead of restricting our children for fear of what the world may do to them, free-range parenting encourages parents to let children be children. This means letting children play outside for long periods of time and respecting your children’s choice to do so. Free-range parenting also encourages parents to trust their kids to experience life without constant parental supervision.
But this has resulted in a clash with state authorities who are all too eager to penalize parents for alleged “neglect.”
The reason many states are able to take action against parents who, for example, let their children walk somewhere unattended is because it is considered to be “neglect” from a legal standpoint. However, a new bill signed into law in the state of Utah has changed the definition of neglect. This will help protect parents against legal backlash.
Commenting on the new law, one of the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Lincoln Fillmore said:
“It’s not neglect if you let your child experience childhood. The message is you need to protect your kids but we are not doing kids any favors if we shelter them to the point where they are not learning how to function.”
This bill has led to a lot of excitement in Utah, where free-range parenting is extremely popular. But Utah is not the only state that is moving away from helicopter parenting.
Since Lenore Skenazy’s book, Free-Range Kids began gaining traction over a decade ago, many parents and educators have been rethinking the way raise our children. Instead of teaching them to be obedient followers capable of sitting still in a desk for eight hours a day, free-range parenting allows children to explore the world around without arbitrary rules. It also teaches children how to be independent, critical thinkers capable of thinking outside the box.
Utah’s new law is the very first of its kind in the nation. And since its passage only a few weeks ago, other states are now modeling their own legislation after Utah’s. And this is something to be excited about.
When we allow children to be children, what we are really allowing them to do is become their own unique individuals. Laws that prohibit children from being independent do little but squash this spirit of individualism and increase a child’s need for arbitrary authority. But thanks to Utah, we might soon be seeing more states protecting the rights of free-range children.