Republican Utah Gov. Gary Hubert just signed a bill that allows for “free-range parenting,” which means children of a certain age and maturity level will be able to take part in more independent activities without parents facing legal consequences.
The bill essentially changes the definition of neglect in Utah, ABC News reports. Previously, parents could be arrested for neglect by allowing children to take part in certain activities without parental supervision, such as walking to and from school alone, but this law will change that starting May 8, 2018.
Children of “sufficient age and maturity” will be able to stay home, play outside, walk to and from the park or other recreational areas, and walk to and from school by themselves.
Advocates of the bill say this newfound freedom will encourage children to develop the confidence necessary to do things on their own and grow into independent individuals, but it will also encourage them to spend more time outside.
As Utah state Sen. Lincoln Fillmore told ABC News:
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. 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 [the bill] so that parents wouldn’t be punished for letting their kids experience childhood.
The terms “free-range kids” and “free-range parents” come from a book by Lenore Skenazy titled “Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry.” In the book, Skenazy discusses the importance of letting children learn to do things on their own starting as soon as they are mature enough to trust themselves as much as they trust their parents.
Skenazy was asked about her opinion on Utah’s new law in an interview with ABC News on Friday. “The way you get brave and self-sufficient and problem-solving is by doing some things on your own … We have to let parents be rational and loving and trust their kids and give them the independence that we all cherish.”
There have been incidents across the U.S. in recent years in which parents have faced the legal consequences of neglect after for allowing their children to walk to and from places like school by themselves.
But with developments in technology that allow parents to track their children via iPhone apps and other devices, there still are ways to keep track of your child after they walk out the front door — something that didn’t exist a decade ago.
Some think the new law is dangerous for children because they think parents won’t be as concerned about the consequences of letting their children do things and go places by themselves. Supporters of the law think it is a step in the right direction toward regaining lost levels of independence in the era of the iPhone.