Free-Range Kids

Utah's Free-Range Kids Law Lets Parents Breathe Easy

"It gives me peace of mind."

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What does it feel like to be a parent in Utah, the first (and thus far only) state to pass the free-range kids bill? Pretty great, according to a new piece from Psychology Today.

Utah's law states that letting your kids play outside, walk to school, wait briefly in the car (under some circumstances), and come home with a latchkey does not constitute neglect unless something else seriously bad is going on. The bill passed both houses unanimously and Gov. Gary Herbert signed it into law, saying, "We believe that parents know and love their children better than anybody. Responsible parents should be able to let kids be kids without constantly looking over their shoulders for approval."

Peter Gray, an evolutionary psychologist and one of my three co-founders of Let Grow, wondered if that's what actually happened. For his Psychology Today column he asked Utah parents to tell him whether the law truly made a difference in their lives, and they said yes.

One mom told Gray that this summer she let her son, age 12, get around by foot, bike, and public transit. "I'm so grateful the free-range parenting law allows me to safely teach my children how to be independent and confident without worrying about the judgment of a person who has helicoptering tendencies," she said.

Another parent, Brannon Burton, confessed that he was probably a bit of an overprotective dad. "I worried about letting [my children] walk to school, play at the park, or go trick or treating without an adult," he wrote to Gray. But as they got older, he also started to worry that something was missing—their ability to get around the neighborhood, and solve problems on their own.

For this he blamed a dearth of real-world interactions. "Without these experiences, my wife and I have observed that our kids stress easily, get stifled by easy problems, and are easily frustrated," he said. In an effort to fill these inadequacies, we felt it was important to allow our kids to go to the park on their own, wander the neighborhood, and play. When we heard about the 'free-range parenting' law, we felt far more comfortable that we wouldn't be held liable."

Since loosening the reins, Burton said, his kids seem more confident and resilient.

Finally, one California-to-Utah transplant, Krista Whipple, told Gray that while Utah folks already seemed "fiercely protective" of their freedoms compared to her West Coast comrades, nonetheless, "it gives me peace of mind knowing that I can let my kids have some freedom and responsibility without the fear of the potential consequences I may have faced in California."

And sure enough, when I reached out to Krista to hear a little more, she emailed back:

My best friend in California just had the cops called on her last week for letting her baby stay asleep in the car with the windows down while she walked her son up to the door of the building where he is taking a class only a few yards away. They showed up with two cop cars, a fire truck and an ambulance.

We all want kids to be safe from danger. But they should also be safe from moral panic. Some people in authority clearly believe that kids are in danger the second a parent glances away from them, and thus many parents end up helicoptering their kids when they really want to give them some independence. This is unfair to both generations, and also to our country, which needs intrepid, creative, resilient young people.

Currently half a dozen states are considering free-range parenting laws. Some towns are also considering free-range proclamations, which carry less weight, but support the general idea.

Interested legislators and citizens can find more information here, on Let Grow's policy page. Give parents the freedom to give kids theirs and everybody wins.

NEXT: New York's New 'Red Flag' Law Illustrates the Due Process Problems Posed by Gun Confiscation Orders

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  1. Another great article, Reason. You all are starting to make me feel like Reason is course correcting. Good to hear about Utah. It’s a damn shame that we have to have legislation to protect what is a natural right – the ability to determine your own kid’s level of freedom.

    1. Dont let them draw you back in, that’s when they release another Shikha article.

      1. Haha, I hear you. I think what bothers me most is when authors here will state a position and include a link, but when I click on the link, it usually, at best, somewhat vaguely addresses and supports the author’s assertion. At worst, the link doesn’t even support what the author stated – or instead states an opinion not backed up by any kind of scientific data and is now quoted as fact because it appeared on Vox or something.

        Of course, Reason is far from the only online publication that does this. I’ve started making a habit of clicking on a lot of the links articles provide, just to see if the links actually back up what the person is saying. A lot of times you’ll find links that are actually self-referential. It’ll be a link to an article written by another journalist that links to another article from a 3rd journalist that will link back to an article the original publication wrote a year or two back. Or it’ll link to an article that is based on a study, but when you read the study, you’ll find out that the study doesn’t even say what the journalist says it does, either due to lack of knowledge or simply wanting to support a particular narrative (Reason actually tends to be fairly good at avoiding this one).

        1. Which can be a good thing. One reason I think I do this is because it leads me to do a little research on a subject or article that interests me and learn something more about it.

          At least I think it is. Really I have no idea.

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  2. GOOD news for once… Wooo Hooo!!!

  3. How the hell are they supposed to turn all those kids into proper socialists after years of being trained to think for themselves?
    What if this notions spreads to states with actual population?

    1. +10

  4. They showed up with two cop cars, a fire truck and an ambulance.

    I hope they added reimbursement to her fines for being a child abuser.

    1. She is probably in one of K Harris’s work camps right providing the state cheap labor.

      1. Awful person, taking labor job from a potential immigrant.

  5. Utah’s law states that letting your kids play outside, walk to school, wait briefly in the car (under some circumstances), and come home with a latchkey does not constitute neglect unless something else seriously bad is going on.

    But only these things, and within the strict parameters laid out. This is the Free Range, damnit, not the Wild West. Remember kids, Free Range farm animals are still confined to the farm and still end up being eaten.

    1. You don’t know panic until you’re riding home one evening and you see several of your cattle wandering around, 4 miles down the road from your property.

      1. word. moo?

    2. Exactly. I was with TripK2 thinking that this was a, uhh, reasonable article for Reason. But then I realized this is just a variation of the Totalitarian Principle: everything not explicitly permitted is forbidden.

  6. “My best friend in California just had the cops called on her last week for letting her baby stay asleep in the car with the windows down while she walked her son up to the door of the building where he is taking a class only a few yards away. They showed up with two cop cars, a fire truck and an ambulance.”

    Sorry, this doesn’t hold water. If the door to the building was only a few yards away, it would have taken her – what – a minute round-trip? That’s not enough time for anyone even to notice the sleeping baby alone in the car; let alone to call 911 and have both police and FD/EMT arrive on scene. The fastest FD will take 1-2 minutes JUST TO GET OUT OF THE STATION. This story is either fabricated or leaving out a lot of key elements.

    1. My best friend in California just had the cops called on her last week for letting her baby stay asleep in the car with the windows down while she walked her son up to the door of the building where he is taking a class only a few yards away. They showed up with two cop cars, a fire truck and an ambulance.

      The firehouse is around a mile from my place – it would still take them 5 minutes to get here.

      No, she was gone longer than the time it takes to walk a few yards. Not saying that that is wrong, just saying that the cops and ambulance didn’t get called and get there in less than 5 minutes.

    2. That was my reaction as well. This does not add up.

      This is not about free range parenting it is about free range mothering.

      No sympathy for this mom. You do not leave babies alone in cars.

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  8. “Give parents the freedom to give kids theirs and everybody wins.”

    WTF? The government is the source of freedom? Who thought up that crappy idea?

    1. For reals. Sad that we now believe freedom comes in the form of a law.

  9. How can Utah not support common sense rugrat control? Those fascists!

  10. Like when I was a kid. We could come and go as we wanted as long as a responsible adult knew when and where. We could go OUTDOORS and play most non-school days and return in the afternoon or so. We could go downtown on the bus. We could make money mowing yards, pet sitting, etc……

  11. This is good news. I’d say that if you live within a mile or so of your kids school and they have never walked there on their own then you are involved in abusive parenting.

    1. Home schoolers hardest hit.

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