Utah Legalizes 'Free-Range Parenting' to Protect Parents

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Great news parents! If you live in Utah you can now raise your children to be independent and self-sufficient without fear of going to jail. 

Isn’t that great?

Your kids can now walk home from school, bike to the store, play outside, wait for you in the car AND take transit all by themselves without sending mom and dad to the slammer.

What a great day for America!

Please forgive the sarcasm but I’m a little taken aback by the fact that the need to legalize so-called “free-range” parenting even exists. I’m all in favour of the concept, I just can’t believe we need laws to govern our parenting styles, or to protect parents  “who might be nervous about their parenting decisions.”

There are very good and very unfortunate reasons child protection laws exist. And I know not all parents are responsible and committed to their child’s well-being so we need to protect vulnerable children. But we’re not talking about abuse. What we are talking about, it seems, is the difference between free-range parenting and neglect. What one person sees as fostering independence and teaching of life skills, another might see as a failure to protect and provide.

For example, in 2015 a Maryland couple named Alexander and Danielle Meitiv faced not one but two child neglect investigations for letting their kids (aged 10 and six) walk home alone from a local park. The Meitivs were cleared of any wrongdoing in both cases and eventually declared by the State to be “responsible parents who never neglect their children.”

In 2008, Lenore Skenazy’s column in the New York Sun titled “Why I Let My 9-Year Old Ride the Subway Alone” sparked a heated international debate. Instead of going into hiding (something many of us would consider when confronted with burning pitchforks and accusations of “BAD MOTHER”) Skenazy gamely doubled-down and coined the term “Free Range Kids” by launching a blog and writing a book of the same name. “Free Range Kids” praises the practice of giving children freedom and shutting down our inner irrational fears about what will happen when we do.

And yes, this happens in Canada, too. In 2016, Winnipeg mother Jacqui Kendrick received a visit from Child and Family Services after a complaint was made that her two, five and 10-year old children were playing outside “unsupervised.” The backyard was fully fenced and the children were being monitored by Jacqui from inside, but still someone felt her children were not being cared for properly and now, despite no further action being taken by CFS, Jacqui will always have a file in her name.

If this is the world we live in, it’s not entirely surprising that the State of Utah took legal action to protect its parents.

Instead of bemoaning the state of the world, it would probably be more productive for me (an advocate of free-range parenting) to look at this as a positive step forward. But I can’t help but get my knickers in a knot over the fact that parents even need this kind of legal protection. Even when the question of abuse hasn’t been raised we can still have our lives turned upside down by people questioning our choices.

To say I’m a full-fledged free-range parent would be an overstatement. I’m more free-range in training, which means I’m working on tamping down the fear I feel when my 11-year old asks to go to the park on her own, or to walk to a friend’s house. I’m still resisting the urge to say no when my eight-year old asks for a sleepover at the home of a friend whose parents I have not thoroughly vetted through local police, Interpol and vulnerable sector screening checks. (Just kidding, I don’t do that. Yet.)

Free-range parents have the same fears all parents do. We aren’t immune from worrying about what could happen to our kids when they’re out of our sight or pushing their physical limits. We just choose (and sometimes force ourselves) to swallow our own fears for the sake of giving our kids the freedom to learn, explore and grow. This is not an easy thing to do and while we don’t expect applause, we certainly don’t expect or appreciate someone (anonymously!) questioning our decisions and accusing of us neglectful behaviour.

I know one day I will say “go ahead and climb that tree” and my kid will fall and get hurt. One day I will say “go ahead and walk home alone” and she will be late and I will panic and whip myself into a guilt-ridden frenzy until she shows up. In these instances I will be harder on myself than anyone else could ever be so the last thing I need is judgment from afar.

By all means, if you see my children in actual danger, please do what you think is right to keep them safe. But if you see my children playing at the park alone or walking by themselves, please consider that even though you disagree, it’s not your choice to make.

The digital age has taught us to feel more entitled than ever to share, push or preach our views onto others. Everyone has the means to express their opinions and as a result, we are in each other’s pockets and passing judgment like never before (hence the need for laws that protect us from the consequences of our parenting choices).

Utah’s new law might protect parents from prosecution but it won’t protect them from judgement. So while I love the move to encourage free-range parenting, I also recognize that it was inspired by fear, not a desire to do right by our kids.

 

Check out the full story at: https://www.cnn.com/2018/03/28/health/utah-free-range-parents-trnd/index.html

 

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Author: Jen Millard

Jen Millard is a writer who's not afraid to say what everyone else is thinking about parenting and relationships. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram via @wineandsmarties and at wineandsmarties.com.

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