You may remember the story, covered by Price Tags — and many other news outlets, some international — of a Vancouver dad who who was reported to provincial authorities for allowing his kids to use transit to get to school by themselves.
(The story stuck, by the way, well before that dad — business owner and affordable housing advocate Adrian Crook — decided to seek NPA nomination for Vancouver city council.)
Well, it happened again. But this time, the kerfuffle about childhood independence has led to the state of Utah bringing into effect the first “free-range” kids law in the U.S.
As reported in the BBC News, this came about when a parent dropped his two kids off at a local park with the expectation that the kids would walk home on their own. A witness called 911 and the parent received a visit from Child Protective Services and was threatened with losing his children.
The new law provides Utah parents with children of “sufficient age and maturity” lawful means to grant their kids the freedom to perform such independent activities as walking to the library or to school by themselves.
The bill’s sponsor State Senator Lincoln Fillmore said the measure was inspired in part by a hope his own children, “would grow up learning how to be responsible for themselves…My law is not an attempt to say that this method of parenting is better than another method; we’re not making that judgement in law. We’re simply saying that for parents who do choose to give their kids some independence, there’s protection in the law for you doing so.”
While parents aren’t allowed to neglect their children, the state’s law never defined what ‘neglect’ actually meant. By adding some definitions to what is meant by neglect, parents are now allowed to afford their children the right to do some of the things that they themselves were allowed to do at the same age.
Allowing children to be unsupervised at times, it is believed, may allow children to become more effective adults. So why is this ‘free range’ concept with children so challenging?
Gail Saltz, American professor of psychology and author, says the reasons are two-fold — there’s a 25 hour news cycle of negative violent events, and, “present-day parenting is less communal than it used to be and has turned into a ‘competitive sport’ for many.
Saltz says this results in parents’ tendency to ‘helicopter’ their children more often, “to appear as though they’re ‘winning’ against their peers.”
Regardless of the rationale, it’s undeniable that increased independence for children can increase their confidence and sense of place. This may be a first step back to allowing children connectivity with and desire to explore their own neighbourhoods, much like their parents did.