This image retrieved from Unsplash
I recently read an article that came out last week from Deseret News. When I first saw the title, “Utah governor signs law legalizing ‘free-range parenting’” I was pretty skeptical. I mean, it sounds crunchy and all. Also, I’m frequently annoyed that we all have to label ourselves into a type of parenting, when instead we could just be supporting and empowering each other in solidarity that parenting is HARD. Can’t we all just be friends??
However, I read the article against my initial judgement and I was pleasantly surprised. I’m on board, you guys. I’m ready to drink the kool-aid of free-range parenting!
First of all, I’m a kid of the eighties. I won’t be the first to tell you that I had to play outside and was frequently told not to come back until the street lights came on. We had a neighborhood of moms with different whistles- so you knew when it was time to come home for dinner. I rode my bike about two miles to the Kmart for flavored lipgloss – and it was on a major road. If you transplanted my kid-self playing in the park without supervision to 2018, my parents would have had DCF called on them.
With that said, I am well aware that we are living in a different world now. I’m not necessarily saying kids need to be off playing in the streets alone til the sun comes down and the whistle calls. However, I’ve seen the trend towards helicopter parenting, and its ill effects. When I taught high school, I had students who didn’t know how to do laundry or make boxed cup-cakes. These were kids months away from being “adults.”
When I was in middle school, I was walking to and from school and staying home alone until my parents got home from work. No, I was not walking up a hill, backwards, and in the snow- I was living in Florida, people! It was HOT as Hades, but I picked oranges off the neighbors trees for snacks, and I was FINE. One day, I decided that I was going to make bacon. I’m not particularly sure why, because I’ve never been a fan of pork, and that was probably the last day I ate/attempted to make it. Anydoodles, Oprah was on and I got distracted while the grease was warming up. I’m sure you can predict what happened next… you would be correct….
I walked into the kitchen and there was a grease fire that hit straight up to the ceiling. I remembered from school that you “starve a grease fire.” Guess what? There was no internets back then, so I did not learn this from Lifehacker or YouTube. I learned it from the local fire department in my Life Skills Class. So, I threw a lid on the pan and turned off the heat, and then I ran over to my neighbor’s house, a school teacher who was grading papers at her kitchen table. She ran over with me, ready to call 911. But the fire was out.
Thankfully, I had problem-solving skills. And, I had education at school (and home) that helped me to prepare for this moment. AND, I was mature enough to stay home, even though I was 11 years old. My parents felt comfortable letting me stay home alone, because they knew me and knew that I was smart enough to critically think about situations that could potentially happen without supervision.
Back to the Child Neglect Amendment in Utah: This law basically says it will not be considered neglect when a child is at least 9 years old and they are:
- traveling to and from school, including walking, running, or biking
- traveling to and from nearby commercial and recreational facilities (i.e. parks and rec centers)
- engaging in outdoor play
- remaining in a car unattended, except in certain circumstances
- remaining home unattended
Way to go, UTAH! I’m 100% in agreement with this amendment, and I look forward to other states following in its lead. Like some of the commentary I have seen in regards to this topic, I’m equally surprised this even needs to be a law. The only other thing I think we need to add is that we need to bring back life skills classes (as early as 5th grade).
Here’s my two cents on parenting:
- Kids need unconditional love.
- Give the kids some independence.
- Teach kids problem-solving skills (*hint: bring back Family & Consumer Science classes all the way back to elementary school)
- Encourage kids when they make mistakes and help them learn from them.
- Teach kids kindness and empathy.
- Give kids boundaries and make them accountable (with consistency) when they cross parameters.