Amy Roberts: Free-range parenting is a good thing for kids
Like everyone else in the state, I’m bracing myself for an onslaught of unsupervised, feral, free-roaming children — they’re poised to take over the streets of every town in Utah starting Tuesday. That’s when our “free-range parenting” law goes into effect, which essentially legalizes things like allowing your kids to play at a park or have a lemonade stand on the street corner; and generally permits parents to raise actual children instead of technology-addicted inanimate objects incapable of independent thought.
It’s not often I agree with anything proposed by the Utah Legislature, much less applaud our lawmakers. But in this particular case, I believe they got it right.
This new “free-range parenting” law essentially decriminalizes less-overbearing moms and dads, assuming their kids are not neglected at home. Under the law, neglect does not include “permitting a child, whose basic needs are met and who is of sufficient age and maturity to avoid harm or unreasonable risk of harm, to engage in independent activities.”
The law does not compel parents to do anything differently, rather it hinders overly anxious busy-bodies from calling the police every time they see an unattended child riding a bike. In short, it gives parenting back to parents and childhood back to children.
I realize we are not going back to the ‘60s (nor am I encouraging it). No one is suggesting we hand kids a few dollars and send them to the liquor store to buy their parents a bottle of vodka and some smokes. But it does seem like childhood should come with a few unsupervised skinned knees, and just enough freedom to have good stories to share as an adult. As it stands, I wonder how this current generation of kids will ever have a good drinking story that starts with, “That’s nothing! My parents used to let me…”
I’m not exactly sure when the pendulum swung so far out of whack, landing with a heavy thunk towards worry-wart child raising. No doubt “helicopter” parenting is largely connected to technology in some regard. Social media is a far more powerful tool than the back of a milk carton. But it has also warped our reality. It’s not that more kids are abducted now, but we are so inundated with the news when it does happen, we assume kidnapping numbers have skyrocketed, when in fact they haven’t changed in decades. And, thanks to that same technology and 24/7 news coverage, an abducted child is much more likely to be returned safely today than compared to even a decade ago.
I don’t think the trend of helicopter parenting and the parallel rise of childhood anxiety, self-esteem issues and poor social skills are disassociated. Yes, I realize those of us without children make the best parents. But I don’t have to be a mother to understand that not allowing your children to make an independent decision is worse than restricting them to the four walls of their home unless accompanied by an adult. Constant supervision is detrimental and creates immature, anxious and depressed adults who lack of the confidence to make their own choices.
It reminds me of something my dad used to tell me when he took me to the ice cream store and grew impatient when I struggled to pick a flavor. “Make a decision, kid. The road is paved with indecisive flat squirrels.” By that measure, I can’t help but wonder if this current generation will grow up to be roadkill.
Maybe it’s the small-town safety we enjoy, or perhaps parents here never read the “How to Helicopter” guidebook, but for the most part, Park City kids already seem to have the free-range thing down. I often see kids taking the bus alone, or hanging out at the skate park unattended, or selling lemonade without an adult in sight. I’m glad to see it’s now legal.
Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, longtime Park City resident and the proud owner of two rescued Dalmatians, Stanley and Willis. Follow her on Twitter @amycroberts.
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