Acton Institute Powerblog

Utah becomes first state to legalize ‘free-range parenting’

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My parents should have been jailed for child neglect.

At least that’s what would be their fate if I were growing up today. Fortunately for them (and for me), I was a child during the 1970s, a time when kids were (mostly) free to explore the world.

At age seven I was allowed to wander a mile in each direction from my home. By age nine I was exploring the underground sewers and drainage system of Wichita Falls, Texas. When I was a 12 I was given a .22 semi-automatic rifle and allowed to roam the woods all day. I had almost total freedom as long as I agreed to one condition: I had to take my younger brother along with me.

We didn’t have cellphones to serve as electronic leashes; we merely had the setting sun as a guide to when we had to be home. Until dusk, our parents rarely knew where on the planet we were.

As a Gen-Xer I’m probably part of the last generation who had childhoods in which we were free to roam. However, some parents—part of the “free range parenting” movement—are trying to preserve that fading legacy. Last month, Utah became the first state to adopt a law legalizing free-range parenting.

The new law changes the legal definition of “neglect” to clarify that it does not mean 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: traveling to and from school, including by walking, running, or bicycling; traveling to and from nearby commercial or recreational facilities; engaging in outdoor play;  remaining in a vehicle unattended (except under the conditions described in other sections of the law); remaining at home unattended; or engaging in a similar independent activity.

“Kids need to wonder about the world, explore and play in it, and by doing so learn the skills of self-reliance and problem-solving they’ll need as adults,” Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, a sponsor of the bill, told ABC News. “As a society, we’ve become too hyper about ‘protecting’ kids and then end up sheltering them from the experiences that we took for granted as we were kids. I sponsored SB65 so that parents wouldn’t be punished for letting their kids experience childhood.”

Kudos to Utah for returning a modicum of freedom to parents and children. Now we just need Big Brother to pass a law allowing free range kids to roam free from their little brothers.

Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).

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