Utah passes first-ever Free Range Kids bill

little boy on a bike
CC BY 2.0 Yassine Jaï -- Little boy on a bike

The new bill recognizes that it is not neglectful for parents to allow kids to have some independence.

The state of Utah has just passed a bill legalizing free range parenting. The purpose of the bill is to foster self-sufficiency in children and to recognize that it is not neglectful to allow children to engage in certain activities independently, such as walking to school alone, playing in a park or playground, and staying home or in the car while a parent goes into a store.

It is the first such law in the United States. Even though Utah has no history of parents being investigated by child protective services under the circumstances described above, according to Rep. Brad Daw, House sponsor of the bill, it has happened in many other states. The new legislation, Daw says, "seeks to ensure it never will [happen in Utah]."

The bill offers a beacon of hope in a society that is currently far too quick to punish parents for allowing their children any freedom at all. Stories such as the Maryland couple whose 10- and 6-year-old kids were held by police after their parents let them walk home alone from a park have frightened other parents into feeling as though they can never leave their children unattended. This, however, has a damaging effect on kids, who never learn how to handle themselves, and it is exhausting for parents.

The Deseret News reports:

"Republican Sen. Lincoln Fillmore of South Jordan has said allowing kids to try things alone helps prepare them for the future... The law states the child must be mature enough to handle those things but leaves the age purposely open-ended so police and prosecutors can work on a case-by-case basis."

The bill specifically redefines the term "neglect," stating that neglect does not include:

"permitting a child, whose basic needs are met and who is of sufficient age and maturity to avoid harm or unreasonable risk of harm, to engage in independent activities, including:
(A) traveling to and from school, including by walking, running, or bicycling;
(B) traveling to and from nearby commercial or recreational facilities;
(C) engaging in outdoor play;
(D) remaining in a vehicle unattended
(E) remaining at home unattended; or
(F) engaging in a similar independent activity."

On one hand, it's rather sad that common sense needs to be prescribed in this way; it's indicative of a loss of judgement and perspective, and a disintegration of community connection when neighbors and passersby are so quick to report unattended children, rather than speaking to their parents directly. On the other hand, if this is what it takes to break out of that harmful mentality, then it's a wonderful thing, and hopefully other states will follow in a similar direction.

The law takes effect on May 8, 2018.

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