Since Utah passed the first law in the United States legalizing so-called free-range parenting, groups in states across the country are urging lawmakers to pass similar legislation.
Free-range parenting is the concept that allowing children the freedom to do things alone — such as ride a bike in the neighborhood or explore a playground — makes them healthier, happier and more resilient.
The new law in Utah specifies that it is not neglectful for parents to allow well-cared-for children travel to school, enjoy a playground or stay in the car alone if they are mature enough to do so, the Associated Press reported.
The issue of free-range parenting emerged nearly a decade ago, when Lenore Skenazy sparked controversy with a column revealing that she permitted her then-9-year-old son to ride the New York City subway alone. Since then, Skenazy has been a vocal advocate for free-range parenting.
According to critics, children who are allowed too much independence could be exposed to serious dangers, such as criminals and moving automobiles. In 2015, a Maryland couple who allowed their 10- and 6-year-old children to walk home alone from a park were investigated by child-welfare authorities — one of several high profile cases that has drawn attention to the issue.
Lawmakers and policy groups in states such as New York and Texas argue that the time has come to assure parents who raise their children in a healthy environment that it is okay to allow them more freedom.
Boston-based clinical psychologist Bobbi Wegner contended that giving children independence with parental oversight helps, yet it is difficult for adults to ignore pressure to hover.
“Parents need permission to do this,” Wegner said.
In New York, Democratic state Assemblyman Phil Steck intends to introduce proposal similar to Utah’s.
“When I was a child, you let your dogs and your children out after breakfast and … they had to be home for dinner,” Steck said. “I felt I gained a lot more from just playing on the street than my children did from being in organized sports activities.”
Brandon Logan with the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation is also working with lawmakers to consider a similar bill in 2019.
“We expect adults to be independent, and we expect parents to raise their children to be independent, and you can’t do that whenever children are being micromanaged,” Logan said.
Efforts are also being undertaken in Idaho and Arkansas to mirror Utah’s legislation, which saw little opposition and was signed by the governor. The bill does not specify how old children should be to be permitted to do things alone, which lawmakers say will allow authorities to weigh each case separately.