When it comes to encouraging healthy independence in our children, it can feel like such a fine line. It would be great to give them the confidence to walk to school with friends or play outside—like in generations past—but concerns about safety are understandable.
In recent years, there’s been a new concern to factor into the equation: Highly publicized stories of parents getting investigated for allowing their children to be outside alone can have the rest of us second-guessing what someone else will consider dangerous.
Soon, that will no longer be the case in Utah, where lawmakers have been seeking to provide a clear definition of what is and isn’t acceptable regarding independent outings by kids. Deemed the “Free-Range Kids Bill,” the legislation cleared both Utah’s House and Senate without any “nay” votes and was recently signed into law Gov. Gary Herbert. The law takes effect May 8, KUTV reports.
“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.
Per the new bill, the legal definition of child neglect will be redefined to allow for unsupervised activities by children who are considered mature enough to do them without harming themselves.
Daw adds the bill is in no way intended to prevent authorities from intervening in cases when children are truly being neglected. “If there are clear signs of abuse, obviously that is grounds for action, and in no way is excluded,” he says.
The bill is the first of its kind in the country. A similar free-range kids proposal in Arkansas hit a road-block last year after a state senator cited statistics related to cases of child abduction, such as how it takes just 37 seconds to carjack a vehicle with a child inside.
Of course, no parent wants to endanger their children. But there’s a difference between using common sense to protect our kids and taking pains to avoid every possible threat. (In that case, none of us would ever get in a car ourselves.)
Writing for USA Today, Lenore Skenazy, the founder of the Free-Range Kids Blog, notes crime rates are down since the 1970s when many parents didn’t think twice about letting their kids have free reign in the neighborhood.
But even if we don’t go back to the days of “come home when the street lights turn on,” it would still be nice if our children can feel confident enough to play in the backyard—and parents don’t have to worry they’re going to get in trouble for it, either.
“Clearly, the laws needed to be clarified. Giving our kids an old-fashioned childhood is not negligence,” Skenazy explains. “The danger in seeing only danger is that our kids are not getting the kind of independence they need to thrive.”
Utah State Senator Lincoln Fillmore adds for USA Today, “We need to make sure we are specifically protecting parents' rights to raise their children with independence.”