Utah’s Gov. Gary R. Herbert signed the nation’s first free-range parenting bill into law on March 15, protecting parents who choose this parenting style from facing child neglect charges.
The new law will take effect in May and allow children to participate in some activities, such as walking or riding a bike, unsupervised without their parents being charged with abuse or neglect. The law states that a child whose basic needs are being met and who is of a sufficient age and maturity level to avoid harm or unreasonable risk of harm is able to participate in activities without a parent being present. In addition to walking or biking to school, the law says the children may travel to and from nearby commercial or recreational facilities, play outside alone, and remain in a vehicle or at home unattended. Under the new law, child-welfare authorities cannot remove a child from the home because they were doing these activities alone as long as the child is properly being cared for.
Free-range parenting has been a topic of debate since columnist Lenore Skenazy allowed her 9-year-old son to ride the subway home alone in 2008. According to Skenazy’s blog Free Range Kids, Skenazy’s son had repeatedly asked her to take him somewhere, leave him there, and allow him to find his way home alone. After discussing the idea with her husband, she decided to let him do it. In 2008, Skenazy left her son in the handbag section of a Bloomingdale’s, which sat on top of the subway station. Before she left, Skenazy gave her son a map, a MetroCard, quarters in case he needed to use a pay phone, and $20 for emergencies. She told him if he needed help with directions to ask someone, not fearing that they would abduct her child. Skenazy’s son arrived home approximately 45 minutes later and was thrilled with his newfound independence.
Skenazy later decided to write a column about her son’s experience in the New York Sun, not realizing the intense backlash that was headed her way. A few days later, Skenazy found herself speaking on the Today show, MSNBC, NPR, and Fox News, as well as being dubbed “America’s Worst Mom.” Rather than seeing the experience as giving her child a chance to have some independence, viewers believed she had intentionally put her child in harm’s way to prove a point.
“I believe in safety,” Skenazy writes in her blog. “I LOVE safety — helmets, car seats, safety belts. I believe in teaching children how to cross the street and even wave their arms to be noticed. I’m a safety geek! But I also believe our kids do not need a security detail every time they leave the house. Our kids are safer than we think, and more competent, too. They deserve a chance to stretch and grow and do what we did — stay out till the street lights come on.”
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