Free-Range Kids

How the Free-Range Kids Movement Is Helping Parents Embrace Their Libertarian Side

"So basically it's now legal to go outside and play like when I was a kid."


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In signing the Free-Range Kids Bill, Utah just became the first state to explicitly recognize the right of parents to raise their kids without the threat of government intervention. Imagine that: it will no longer be considered negligent to let your kid walk to school, play outside, come home with a latchkey, or even, under certain conditions, wait briefly in the car.

The bill, which was named for the movement I started, has has been getting tremendously positive press. The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal (that one's by me), Good Morning America, USA Today, The Hill, and Kennedy of Fox Business all covered it favorably. And the vast majority of commenters have said something along the lines of finally and it's awful we even need a law like this.

Here, for instance, is The Washignton Post story. It begins:

It all started when Lenore Skenazy let her 9-year-old ride the subway home alone. She gave him a map, a MetroCard, a $20 bill and — just in case — some quarters for a pay phone call. Then she left him in the handbag section in New York's original Bloomingdale's. It was all his idea. He had begged Skenazy to just leave him somewhere and let him find his way back all by himself, until finally, on a spring day in 2008, she let him do it.

"I trusted him to figure out that he should take the Lexington Avenue subway down, and the 34th Street crosstown bus home," she wrote in her 2008 column for the New York Sun, the one that ended up starting a movement. "If he couldn't do that, I trusted him to ask a stranger. And then I even trusted that stranger not to think, 'Gee, I was about to catch my train home, but now I think I'll abduct this adorable child instead.'

"Long story short: My son got home, ecstatic with independence."

Within days, Skenazy's story went viral, as parents across the country wondered whether she was "America's Worst Mom" or just one who valued her kid's independence. Within a year, she wrote a book. She coined a new term. She called her parenting style "free-range," allowing her son to do various activities without stifling supervision.

And now it's the basis of a new law in Utah.

And here is a typical comment:

The people of Utah feel they should be allowed to parent and make choices without the threat of losing their kids. Utah is simply trying to stop the encroachment of government into every part of their lives.

Here's a comment from The New York Times piece:

Finally, a sensible law.

And from Yahoo News, where the piece garnered 6,791 comments:

So basically it's now legal to go outside and play like when I was a kid.

This push for freedom isn't over—the Times reports that other states are considering similar laws. And media interest continues. I was on CBS This Morning on Saturday, and on Monday I'll be on C-Span at 8:30 a.m. After that I'm on NPR's "On Point" from 11:00 p.m. until noon.

Free-range parenting has captured America's imagination because America has captured its kids. We have been locking them up at home, transporting them to supervised classes, and tracking them by text and GPS, all in the name of safety. We do this, even though the crime rate today is back to what it was when gas was 29 cents per gallon.

Now that I am president of the new non-profit Let Grow—Free-Range Kids with a board and a budget—my goal is to make it easy and normal to give kids back their freedom, so they grow up ready to think and fend for themselves.

I have to thank Reason for giving me a platform for all these years, and publishing that "Fragile Generation" cover story. I would also like to give a special shout out to the Reason Foundation's Adrian Moore for helping me write what became the first draft of the Free-Range Kids law. Onward.