The Legal Standing of Free-Range Parenting


The Atlantic:

The Legal Standing of Free-Range Parenting

A provision tucked deep within a gargantuan education bill passed in December clarifies the murky legal standing of free-range parenting—sort of. Advocates for the practice—that is, encouraging kids to build self-reliance skills by traveling their neighborhoods solo—are hailing the 101-word section as a victory, though the law still leaves parents and journeying kiddos subject to state and local guidelines.The amendment is on page 857 of the Every Student Succeeds Act, and is the work of Mike Lee, the Republican senator from Utah who has become something of a political patron saint of anti-helicopter parenting. The provision declares that nothing will “prohibit a child from traveling to and from school on foot or by car, bus, or bike when the parents of the child have given permission.”(Note that the language does not specify how parents are to give legitimate permission.)

It also shields parents who allow their kids to travel “reasonably and safely to and from school by a means the parents believe is age appropriate” from civil or criminal charges.
The state and local exemption could be a killer in this case, and one lawyer consulted by StreetsBlogUSA called the amendment a “symbolic effort.” But the legislation proves that people are heeding the call of the free-range movement, whose adherents believe that children need to be entrusted with independence in order to grow into independent adults**.** It also proves a point that Amanda Kolson Hurley highlighted at CityLab last year: Legislating when children are old enough to do anything is a tricky, tricky business.

Governments at all levels—city, state, and federal—have a patchwork of laws surrounding kids being alone. Some states have legislation prohibiting leaving children under a certain age in homes by themselves. (The cut-off in North Carolina is 10, in Illinois, 14, and Maryland, 8.) But most leave the question of what constitutes too much trust in children up to local agencies and law enforcement.

I’ve been reading a lot of these cases where some busybody reports an unsupervised child and the parents are subjected to a CPS investigation (sometimes with the children removed) and occasionally they were arrested.

Certainly when I was a kid were were allowed to go to the play ground, pool, visit friends from a young age, probably ~8, maybe less if accompanied by an older sib.


My parents didn’t accompany me anywhere, unless we had to drive to get there. Grade school was a bus and I walked to JR and High School.


I was born in '73 and am from a very small town (I think a few thousand when I was a kid). We were allowed to go out without supervision but we knew the rules. As we got older (10 on up) we were all over the map on our bikes.


Free-Range parenting seems to be the norm in my neighborhood. I don’t think the parents are aware they are part of a movement though.


:smiley: same here


I was born in the late 80s and also was allowed pretty much free reign of our (small, 1 road) neighborhood (and the surrounding wooded area) from about 9 or 10 on bike.

I wouldn’t let my children walk to school (if they went to school, we plan to homeschool) where we live now, not so much because I’m worried about intersections and other people, but there are no sidewalks and it is a really busy road with deep ditches and poor lawn care, so lots of tall grass for ticks and spiders and snakes. If we lived in a city area with sidewalks and walk signals, I could see it for an older child. Then again, I plan to homeschool and there is nothing good to walk or bike ride to around where we are moving to soon.


One thing I’ve never understood is why so many suburbs have no sidewalks or street lights (or very few). Also, with houses set so far back from the street it seems to me it would be harder to get to know your neighbors when all the houses are set far back from the street.


Oh yes, I remember always seeing large groups of kids walking to and from school back in the 80s and early 90s, but not so much anymore, its a few kids here and there, I guess majority of parents are too worried about ‘stranger dangers’ and kidnappings.


It’s a mostly symbolic step since it’s local and state laws that usually get parents in trouble (typically coupled with nosy neighbors) with regard to free range (I’d call it NORMAL) parenting.

It really is quite sad how overprotective laws have become with regard to kids being able to actually experience the world on their own. I mean I used to ride my bike all over town, go to the park, go to the movies on my own, etc… If I allow my daughter to do that when she’s old enough I’d likely land up in jail and she’d end up in the foster system the first time she rides by a little old lady with nothing better to do but call the cops.


And all these overly sheltered kids are going to grow up and become overly sheltered adults who do not know how to deal with things.


My neighborhood is laid out quite nicely, but it’s the space between our neighborhood and the school.

We are moving out in the boonies though. hehe.


Why walk when you can drive even if it is just down the block? If you have sidewalks then you have to pay to maintain them, either the city has to pay for it and thus everyone via taxes or homeowners have to pay for it individually (which is a far worse option as they get gouged).


That was not the case in the 1960s. Everything was age appropriate. If you were too young, you couldn’t do certain things. There were rules and they made sense. Sheltered? That’s a myth. We knew all about crime. And all the people I grew up with knew how to live and deal with things, responsibly. That meant sacrifice and avoiding certain places.

It worked.



Today children are supposed to go immediately home from school and stay there until parents get home. Letting your child go to the park unattended? You can go to jail for that. Children weren’t micromanaged in the 1960s.


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