Family Talk: Free-range parenting might have merit
There's a new law enacted in the state of Utah called the “Free-Range Parenting” bill, and, remarkably, it passed unanimously in both chambers of the Utah Legislature and was quickly signed by Utah's governor.
I've heard of free-range chickens and free-range dairies. Even free-range pigs. But free-range parents?
Yep, that's right. The state of Utah has codified the right of parents to free-range raise their children. The law specifically exempts certain parental actions from the definition of abuse or neglect, including letting kids “walk, run or bike to and from school, travel to commercial or recreational facilities, play outside and remain at home unattended.”
There are some qualifiers in order to be protected as a free-range parent. You have to meet your child's “basic needs,” and the child must be “of sufficient age and maturity to avoid harm or unreasonable risk of harm to engage in independent activities.”
In other words, a parent cannot be arrested or their children taken away because they parent in a style that was the norm in the 1950s and '60s.
The free-range parenting movement apparently began a few years ago when one woman rejected the notion of helicopter parenting and decided to instill a sense of independence in her 9-year-old son. Lenore Skenazy had a son who begged her to “leave me somewhere and let me see if I can find my way back home.” So she did. She gave him a map, a subway card, some quarters for a pay phone and a $20 bill. Then she left him in Bloomingdale's department store in New York City and told him to find his way back to their home in the borough of Queens. Guess what? The kid made it home safely, swelling with pride and independence.
But when word got out about their experiment, Skenazy was accused of being “America's Worst Mom." In defense of her approach, she wrote a book and started a blog called "Free Range Kids," which is, in her words, dedicated to "fighting the belief that our children are in constant danger from creeps, kidnapping, germs, grades, flashers, frustration, failure, baby snatchers, bugs, bullies, men, sleepovers and/or the perils of a nonorganic grape."
Lenore proposed making every May 22 “Take Our Children to the Park & Leave Them There Day” as a time for children to learn how to play by themselves without constant supervision. She is also host of a reality TV show called "World's Worst Moms" where she tries to get overly protective mothers to let their kids be independent.
I like this woman. She's smart. She has an undergraduate degree from Yale and a master's degree from Columbia University. But beyond book smart, she's street smart. She understands parenting requires both protecting and preparing. That you can't hover over kids and expect them to grow into responsible adults. Sure, free-range parenting has its limitations, but it has a lot of upside when handled properly.
I encourage parents everywhere to consider becoming responsible, free-range parents.
Jim Priest is CEO of Sunbeam Family Services and can be reached at email@example.com.