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Utah Legalizes 'Free-Range Parenting' Amid Concerns of 'Over-the-Top' Protection of Children

Utah Legalizes 'Free-Range Parenting' Amid Concerns of 'Over-the-Top' Protection of Children

Kindergarten children in this undated photo. | (Photo: Reuters/Michael Kooren)

In a "common-sense" move Friday, Utah Governor Gary Herbert made his state the first to legalize a controversial practice known as "free-range parenting" that previously led to the arrest of a number of parents for negligence.

Herbert signed into law bill SB65, which becomes effective on May 8. It will now allow a child — "whose basic needs are met and who is of sufficient age and maturity to avoid harm or unreasonable risk of harm" — to travel alone to and from school or recreational facilities by walking, running, or biking, play outside or engage in another independent activity, and sit in a car unattended, under reasonably safe conditions. Allowing a child to engage in such independent activities will no longer be counted as "neglect."

The bill also allows a parent or guardian "legitimately practicing religious beliefs" to "not provide specified medical treatment for a child."

"I feel strongly about the issue because we have become so over-the-top when 'protecting' children that we are refusing to let them learn the lessons of self-reliance and problem-solving that they will need to be successful as adults," Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, who sponsored the bill, told Yahoo Lifestyle.

Lenore Skenazy, a New York City mother of two, who was dubbed "America's Worst Mom" in 2008 after writing about how she had allowed her younger son, then 9, to ride the subway alone, celebrated the move by Utah.

"Friends, it has happened. We have changed the course of parenting — and law. Loving moms and dads in Utah do not have to worry that they will be arrested or investigated simply for trusting their kids to walk to school, play outside, go to the park. Only 49 states to go!" she wrote on her website Free-Range Kids.

Skenazy, who authored Free Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts With Worry), also leads an organization called Let Grow, which challenges the idea that "kids today are somehow more physically, emotionally and psychologically fragile than any generation before them. Our projects help the culture see for itself how capable our kids can be once we stop overprotecting them."

In an op-ed for Deseret News last summer, Fillmore explained why it was necessary to fix the law to protect free-range parents.

"As parents we have different opinions about almost every facet of parenting; discipline, extracurricular activities, appropriate television and how closely they are supervised. With the 24-hour news cycle and social media fueling the view that our kids are in constant danger, it is easy to understand why some parents are more comfortable with very strict supervision," he wrote.

"There is room however, for loving, responsible parents to have a less strict supervision structure; more 'free range.'.... Of course there are lines that we can all agree are neglect or abuse, and we can all agree there are times for organizations that protect children to step in. However, having a different opinion does not necessarily make a parent neglectful," he added.

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