Let Kids Be Kids, Says Utah Governor — and This Mom Agrees

Children will be able to (gasp!) walk home from school by themselves, play outside, even wait in cars alone

This May, kids in Utah will be able to engage in a variety of activities independently — without their parents being singled out or suffering prosecution for the kids’ abuse or neglect.

That’s right: Summer just got better for thousands of Utah children. Their parents will no longer be saddled with the fear of being vulnerable to abuse charges if they allow responsible tots to get outdoors and have a little fun on their own.

“I’m thrilled,” said the Manhattan-based Lenore Skenazy, founder of the free-range parenting movement, in an interview with LifeZette on Monday. “I hope it’s one of 50 [states] to pass this bill, or perhaps we should just pass it at the federal level and call it a day.”

GOP Gov. Gary Herbert on Friday announced that he signed a bill to “let kids do things alone like travel to school, explore a playground, or stay in the car,” U.S. News & World Report related via the Associated Press.

The law takes effect May 8, just in time for summer fun. The bill permits 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.”

Among the permissible independent activities the bill lists are:

  • 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 in certain circumstances;
  • remaining at home unattended; or
  • engaging in a similar independent activity

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The law is a first for the country, said Skenazy, president of the Let Grow organization.

Readers may remember Skenazy for making headlines in 2008 when she allowed her then nine-year-old, at the child’s request, to navigate New York City’s public transit system on his own.

Skenazy equipped her son with a “subway map, a MetroCard, a $20 bill, and several quarters,” she wrote in the New York Sun at the time. Without benefit of a cell phone, the youngster made his way from Bloomingdale’s back home safe and sound, using the subway and a bus.

Related: Adventureless Kids Aren’t Kids

Responses to the boy’s adventures — or horrors, depending on who was talking — ranged from abject dismay to hearty cheers. Skenazy’s article ignited a nationwide conversation on parenting practices that is still going on to this day and was the original impetus behind the formation of her organization, Let Grow.

Skenazy’s video published Monday on Prager University’s channel provides a great overview of the way overprotective, helicopter-like parenting strategies have gone so far overboard in this country that a legislative course correction like Utah’s became necessary.

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Childhood freedoms as simple as walking home alone from a park or from school — or just playing basketball in a kid’s own yard — have resulted in investigations and even temporary removal of children by officials in recent years.

It is that sort of societal and governmental overreaction that Skenazy suggests is handicapping kids today, leading them to believe, wrongly, that they are vulnerable and incapable. Instead, she advocates instilling in children a sense of self-sufficiency and independence that they prove to themselves through lived experience.

Related: 18 Moms Weigh In on the Best Age for a Kid’s First Cellphone

Utah’s new law will make it easier for parents to provide their children with those types of experiences that give them confidence to successfully navigate their world.

Some parents, of course, are fretting — believing the law could put kids at risk. Republican Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, assuaging some of those concerns, noted in the Deseret News that “the law states the child must be mature enough to handle those things but leaves the age purposely open-ended so police and prosecutors can work on a case-by-case basis.”

Spunky and engaging, Skenazy also understands the fears of parents who believe that allowing some of these independent experiences could be damaging or dangerous for kids. Many moms and dads labor under the false idea that kids are more at risk today than they were when their parents were growing up. And to protect against that (or to try to), they rely more and more on devices, on cellphone apps and the like, to give them some sense of security as a bulwark against a range of ills and dangers in society today.

“I don’t want any parent to have to second-guess a rational, loving decision to let their kid have even an ounce of the freedom we had.”

“The fact is that we live in less criminal times [today],” said Skenazy. “Crime peaked in 1993 and has been going down ever since then.” Statistics demonstrate that crime is down across the board, including crimes committed against adults and those committed against children. Objections based on the notion that crime against children has decreased because of helicopter parenting strategies simply don’t hold water.

“I don’t want any parent to have to second-guess a rational, loving decision to let their kid have even an ounce of the freedom we had,” Skenazy said. They won’t have to — if more states follow in Utah’s footsteps.

Michele Blood is a Flemington, New Jersey-based freelance writer and regular contributor to LifeZette.

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