Parents have debated the controversial parenting style ever since Lenore Skenazy introduced it her book, Free Range Kids.
Do you have to keep your eyes on your kids Every. Single. Minute. of the day? Or should be able to let them go run in the yard, or even—gasp!—walk half a mile to the playground by themselves without having the police knock on your door and accuse you of being a terrible parent?
Ever since author and advocate Lenore Skenazy first introduced the world to the term “free-range parenting” a decade ago, moms and dads have been arguing both sides of the hot-button issue, with those who believe children should be free to explore and play on their own on one side, and those who worry that letting kids take the subway or walk to the mall without a grown-up is just asking for trouble on the other.
Well, if you live in Utah, expect the debate to get even louder in the next few weeks. Utah, the state best-known for skiing, Mormons, and ballroom-dancing champs, is about to become the first U.S. state to actually legalize free-range parenting. Earlier this week, Republican State Senator Lincoln Fillmore (no, we didn’t make up that uber-presidential name!) introduced a bill that would rewrite state law to make it clear that parents can’t be cited for neglect for letting 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.
While this seems like a no-brainer, Fillmore explained in an op-ed last summer in the Deseret News that he wants to protect families who have been unfairly accused of child neglect—some have even placed on child-abuse registries or had their children taken away—for simply letting their kids run around outside without a parent’s hawk-eye watching their every move.
“Loving parents who empower their children to practice and learn from a bit of independence should not be subject to criminal penalties,” Fillmore wrote. “We all want to protect our children, and sometimes that means protecting them from government agencies that may use flimsy pretexts to undermine parental rights and remove children who are merely experiencing something called ‘childhood.’”
Of course, this doesn't mean parents can just set their kids free all night to fend for themselves while they party it up. Fillmore points says the state still has a responsibility to step in and protect children who are truly in danger: “There are lines that we can all agree are neglect or abuse, and we can all agree there are times for organizations that protect children to step in. However, having a different opinion does not necessarily make a parent neglectful.”
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. Expect a lot of parents to breathe a sigh of relief--while others have just another thing to be angry about.