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.