Earlier this month, the state of Utah did something amazing (at least as far as I’m concerned). And I’m just giddy about it.
What they did was pass a law that more or less redefines how their state defines neglect so that kids can spend a little unsupervised time, you know, being kids, and parents won’t be called out for being negligent parents. It’s called the Free-Range Parenting Law and it’s about damn time.
Born out of the Free-Range Parenting Movement that was introduced by Lenore Skenazy, author of “Free Range Kids” and president of letitgrow.org, the new law allows parents in Utah to reserve the right to let their kids do things like walk home from school, go to the park, and play unsupervised without the Department of Social Services busting down their door and arresting them for neglecting their children.
Now as a parent, I think it’s absurd that any state in our union should have to pass a law to let kids be kids in the first place, but the reality is that that’s where we’re at as a culture right now. And it’s a sign of our times that we just can’t ignore anymore. So I think it’s a great thing that states like Utah are fighting to give basic parenting rights back to the parents, because it feels like we’ve lost a lot of our autonomy over the last handful of decades.
Don’t forget, it wasn’t too long ago (think only as far back as when we were growing up) when allowing kids to do those things was ordinary and parents never worried about any backlash from other parents or the authorities. It was just normal. But it’s not normal anymore and that’s the scary reality about the culture of today’s world. Today, unfortunately, we’re living in a society where parents are judged and criticized for giving their kids some slack and autonomy instead of being celebrated for empowering them to think and do for themselves — so much so that parents have all but lost the right to dictate what’s right for their child. And that’s not ok, because no one knows our kids’ capabilities or limitations better than us.
And sure, we live in a different world now, with what feels like way more things to worry about; but the irony is, statistically speaking, our kids are growing up in a world with a lower crime rate than the world we grew up in. And if we make sure they’re equipped with the same common-sense rules we had growing up, then they’re no more at risk than we were.
Look, it’s just sad to think that there are good parents out there getting arrested or harassed or belittled for letting their kids be kids. Especially when that’s exactly what they’re supposed to do. So that’s why I think this Free-Range Parenting Law being passed is so epic, because so many of today’s moms and dads are crippling their kids by helicopter parenting every aspect of their lives.
I remember how empowering it felt to dribble my basketball the half mile to the park to play horse all afternoon on a Saturday. I remember tossing my lacrosse stick over my shoulder and walking around the corner to my elementary school playground, so I could practice throwing and catching against the massive gymnasium wall. And I did it for hours. And it was so good. I remember exploring and bushwhacking around in the woods near my house with my friends, discovering nature and learning independence and self-reliance in ways that I never would’ve internalized without the freedom to do it myself. For me, those are some of the most beautiful, formative memories of my childhood.
And I thank my mom for that because it helped me to develop good instincts and common sense and people skills because it allowed me to experience a little bit of life on my own. And I firmly believe that it’s a big part of why I became a self-reliant adult who welcomes the chance to go out and explore the world around me on my own without feeling intimidated or scared or unprepared.
My mom always made sure we communicated before I left to go anywhere so she knew where I was going and who I was with and when I should be home. But beyond that, I ran free range in our neighborhood or around our small town and I loved it. And, more importantly, I appreciated the freedom, even then.
But I’m not so sure that a lot of today’s kids can say the same because they’re living in a much smaller, more controlled bubble than we ever lived in when we were that age. That’s because today’s world mandates that kids need to be under constant supervision 24/7/365 in almost every aspect of their lives. And that provides those same kids with zero opportunity to learn to entertain themselves or be adventurous or develop any kind of self-reliance.
That’s why, right or wrong, Dave and I always encouraged our girls to go off and explore our neighborhood and find the secret spots and good climbing trees and the hidden treasures that all kids need to discover in their own backyard. And I think they’re happier adults for having had the opportunity and, more importantly, for having our trust.
Now I’m obviously not suggesting that we should be letting 8-year-olds take the bus across town or leave our newborn in the car while we run into the convenient store, but, we should be allowed to let our kids engage in independent activities as we see fit as their parents. Because giving our kids a certain degree of independence is one of the best ways they learn to be self-sufficient.
I mean, I distinctly remember feeling empowered that my mom trusted me to walk to school or the candy store because it meant that she thought I was mature and capable enough to think a little bit for myself. And I loved her for that. Because there are few things that will leave a bigger positive impact on your kid than trust.
So, starting this May, kids in Utah will have a little more independence to play with as they head off for summer vacation, and their parents won’t have to live in fear of legal repercussions if they let their kids do kid stuff like walk to the park or play hoops in the driveway or stay home alone while mom runs out to get gas. And you can bet cash money that all those Utah kids are going to be that much more self-sufficient than their peers in the other 49 states because they were given the chance to be independent first-hand.
Because if we continue to isolate our kids from experiencing the world, they won’t know how to navigate it once it’s their turn to live in it.
So way to blaze the trail, Utah. Nice work. I hope the rest of the country takes your lead. Can’t wait to see who’s next.