Update (3/19/18): Gov. Gary Herbert of Utah signed SB65 into law on Friday. The law takes effect on May 8. This makes Utah the first state in the country to legalize "free-range parenting."
Original story (3/1/18): Utah parents who grant their kids small freedoms like biking alone are waiting to see if Gov. Gary Huber signs a “free-range kids” bill into law. SB65 already won approval in the House (66-0) and in the Senate (25-0).
The bill redefines neglect in Utah’s state law to allow unsupervised activities such as playing, walking to school or riding public transit for children who are, as “The Salt Lake Tribune” words it, "mature enough to handle themselves without hurting themselves."
If signed, the bill will make Utah the first state to safeguard parents against arrest for what is often referred to as “free-range parenting.”
You might know the term from the work of Lenore Skenazy. In 2008, she published a piece in the New York Sun about letting her then-9-year-old ride the New York subway by himself. Two days after that story published, she found herself defending that decision on The Today Show, NPR, MSNBC and Fox News.
“[That weekend] I launched the Free-Range Kids blog to explain that I love safety, [but] I just don’t think our kids need a security detail every time they leave home,” she recently wrote in USA Today. “That’s when I started hearing from other parents who felt the same way, had allowed their kids go outside on their own — and ended up being investigated by the cops or child protective services."
As Skenazy points out in USA Today, the crime rate in the United States is now the same as it was in about 1967. “It just doesn't feel as safe today,” she says, pointing to “the 24-hour news cycle and all the other likely suspects” including “a litigious culture” and “safety-obsessed society.”
Time will tell if Utah’s bill becomes law and if other state’s follow suit with their own free-range kids laws. In our own state, it’s illegal to leave a child under the age of 16 unattended in a vehicle with its motor running that’s on a highway or in a public place. Washington state also offers a guideline that suggests a child shouldn’t be left home alone before age 10.
Whatever rules are applicable in your own state (or your own home), it’s always helpful to know a person has a higher chance of being zapped by lightning than being kidnapped. So maybe check the weather before deciding who gets to run to the store for milk.