Several states and counties are investigating the possibility of free-range parenting laws that would make it legal for parents to extend more freedom to younger children. The laws, which remain under consideration in all but a few areas of the country, specifically give parents free reign to decide when, where, and how children should be able to enjoy activities like going to the park or playing outside alone.
• There is significant evidence to prove that extending kids more freedom is the healthiest approach to parenting. However, some parents believe that too much freedom can place children in harm’s way.
• Many of these newer free-range parenting laws avoid specifying how, when, and where. Experts believe this will place the onus to protect children and make decisions about their care with parents, instead of relegating that to the state.
• States like Utah believe that America is going too far to protect children, to the point at which it may be hampering their development. Their laws, which are now fully enacted, state that little ones can “travel to school, explore a playground or stay in the car alone” if and when parents decide they’re mature enough to do so.
• The main goal here is to put control of kids back in the hands of parents where it belongs. But some experts question whether all parents will follow these guidelines – which is essentially questioning whether parents know how to properly parent. Because no two parenting styles are exactly alike, such a decision is immensely complex with few “right answers.”
• In investigating whether there is a precedent for such laws, the answer appears to be yes. There have been multiple concerning incidents where parents have been threatened by CPS or have had their children placed into foster care over small extensions of freedom from parents. This includes at least one instance where a three-year-old child was standing at the end of the driveway speaking to other neighborhood children.
• Another mother was investigated for neglect by CPS because the organization discovered she had allowed her three young children to walk home from the park alone. Despite the fact that the park was close, and the children remained together, she was forced to fight to defend her right to parent. Free-range parenting laws would make it more difficult for organizations to step in unless there are clear signs of abuse or neglect.
• Ultimately, legislators hope the laws will foster more independence and personal responsibility in kids, making them more resilient. That said, parents will still need to define exactly what constitutes a “dangerous situation” versus simply playing or exploring outside.