Utah just took a step to actually legalize free-range parenting

This state just approved a bill to help ensure parents who decide their kids are old enough to do certain things alone aren't hung out to dry for it.

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When it comes to parenting styles, the pendulum tends to swing back and forth. And these days, more and more parents are trying to reverse the helicopter-parenting trend, instead embracing a more “free-range” style  of parenting—whereby you don’t necessarily keep your eye on them every dang second, and you allow them certain age-appropriate freedoms, such as walking home from school alone. (The term, by the way, was actually coined by writer and advocate Lenore Skenazy about ten years ago, with the publication of her book Free-Range Kids.)

But unfortunately, there have been a handful of highly publicized instances in which kids seen unaccompanied while on their way home from school or frolicking at a playground have prompted other (presumably well-intentioned) parents to call the police—so now some moms and dads are actually scared to loosen their apron strings. After all, who wants the police on your doorstep or a family investigation simply because you deemed your nine-year-old mature and independent enough to walk to the corner store by himself.

   Photo of a child walking along a log in a forest    
   Confessions of a free-range parent
But there’s good news for parents who live in the state of Utah, since lawmakers there are trying to make it that much easier for parents to exercise their freedoms when it comes to free-range parenting. A few days ago, Republican State Senator Lincoln Fillmore introduced a bill that would rewrite state law to make it clear that parents can’t be turned in for neglect if they let their children walk alone to a park, or sit in a car unattended, as long as they are otherwise happy, safe, and well cared-for.

“We’ve become so helicopter-ish as parents, and as society expecting parents to be that way, we are kind of robbing children of some of the joys of childhood,” Fillmore said, reported in the Salt Lake Tribune. Giving kids more freedom actually better prepares them for the future, he said. (And there’s some evidence it can actually be healthier, too.)

While the bill doesn’t offer any specific ages for when kids are mature enough to take on the activities without hurting themselves, police and prosecutors can handle things on a case-by-case basis.

And obviously there are still strong lines parents can’t cross in terms of making sure kids are well-cared for, so that cases of true neglect or abuse don’t slip through.

On Tuesday, a panel of lawmakers unanimously approved the bill, sending it on to the state senate for a full vote, making it likely the bill will become law. Parents and kids in Utah: Prepare for liftoff!

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