Ten years ago I wrote an article that sparked a media firestorm: "Why I Let My 9-Year-Old Ride the Subway Alone." The excitement led to a movement known as Free-Range Parenting, dedicated to giving kids the freedom to develop independence as they grow. I wrote a book, Free-Range Kids, and started a blog that eventually became Let Grow. We built an enthusiastic following, which culminated in early 2018 with the Utah Free Range Parenting Law, the first of its kind in the nation.
Utah’s law says that letting your kids play outside, walk to school, wait briefly in the car (under some circumstances) or come home with a latchkey is not neglect unless something else seriously bad is going on. The bill passed both houses unanimously and Gov. Gary Herbert signed it into law, saying, “We believe that parents know and love their children better than anybody... Responsible parents should be able to let kids be kids without constantly looking over their shoulders for approval.”
Families love the Utah Free Range Parenting Law.
Boston College Psychology Professor Peter Gray, one of the three co-founders of Let Grow, wondered if the law was really making a difference for parents and kids. So a year later, he reached out to see how things were going.
In his Psychology Today blog, Gray quoted a Utah mom who told him that this summer she let her son, age 12, get around by foot, bike and public transit. Thanks to the law, she felt confident that she didn’t have to worry about some worried onlooker calling the authorities.
Another parent, Brannon Burton, confessed that he was probably a bit of an overprotective dad. “I worried about letting [my children] walk to school, play at the park, or go trick or treating without an adult,” he told Gray. But as they got older, he also started to worry about something else. His kids didn’t seem that comfortable getting around the neighborhood, or solving problems on their own. He blamed their lack of real-world interactions.
Things changed with the Utah Free Range Parenting Law at his back. Burton and his wife started letting their kids roam further afield and do more on their own. Now, he reports, they seem a lot more capable.
The Utah Free Range Parenting Law provides protections parents and kids need.
One Los Angeles-to-Utah transplant, Krista Whipple, told Gray that Utah folks already seemed “fiercely protective” of their freedoms compared to her West Coast comrades. She says the new law “gives me peace of mind knowing that I can let my kids have some freedom and responsibility without the fear of the potential consequences I may have faced in California.”
She went on to tell me, “My best friend in California just had the cops called on her last week for letting her baby stay asleep in the car with the windows down while she walked her son up to the door of the building where he is taking a class only a few yards away. They showed up with two cop cars, a fire truck and an ambulance.”
We all want kids to be safe. But some folks in authority believe that kids are in danger the second a parent walks a few feet away. The chilling effect is that many parents helicopter their kids when they really want to give them some independence. This is unfair to both generations, and also to our country, which needs intrepid, creative, resilient young people. The Utah Free Range Parenting Law is an important first step in setting parents free to let their kids grow.
Join the Free-Range Parenting movement.
Interested in getting a law or proclamation considered where you live? Check out our policy page for a lot of helpful info. Plus, join the free Let Grow Community to locate other like-minded families in your neck of the woods.
When parents have the freedom to give their kids freedom, everybody wins. Kudos to Utah for leading the way!