republican debate

More states are embracing ‘free range’ laws that let kids be kids

  • 8 states have passed bills aimed at encouraging kids to be independent
  • Supporters of the legislation say 'helicopter parenting' can be damaging
  • Parents have been arrested in recent years for letting kids walk alone
Students play on the playground at the Kilombo Academic and Cultural Institute, Tuesday, March 28, 2023, in Decatur, Ga. (AP Photo/Alex Slitz)

Students play on the playground at the Kilombo Academic and Cultural Institute, Tuesday, March 28, 2023, in Decatur, Ga. (AP Photo/Alex Slitz)

(NewsNation) — Republicans and Democrats finally agree on something: Kids need time to be kids.

That’s the upshot of recent bipartisan efforts aimed at giving children more freedom to do things like play outside or walk to school alone — sometimes referred to as “free-range parenting” or “reasonable childhood independence” laws.

Since 2018, eight states have passed legislation to ensure parents aren’t punished for giving their kids greater independence when appropriate — including Montana, Connecticut, Virginia, and Illinois — this year.

Supporters of the laws say “helicopter parenting” has made it harder for kids to become confident, well-rounded individuals.

“It’s almost like we’re killing kids with kindness,” said Lenore Skenazy, the president of Let Grow, a nonprofit promoting childhood independence and resilience.

In 2008, Skenazy made national headlines when she wrote a column explaining why she let her 9-year-old ride the New York City subway alone. Since then, she’s become one of the faces of the “free-range parenting” movement — a philosophy that encourages kids to be more independent through activities like unsupervised playtime.

“We really have to renormalize the idea that kids can have some time just with other kids, or with themselves, not on devices but out in the world being part of things,” she said.

Activities that were once thought of as important childhood milestones have almost disappeared entirely.

For example, about 10% of kids walked or biked to school in 2017, down from 42% in 1969.

Today, many parents are more actively involved than ever but research suggests those good intentions can undermine their children’s own sense of competence.

Skenazy thinks some of that overreach is due to imprecise laws, which have left well-meaning parents vulnerable to investigations.

A Texas mother was arrested in 2021 after asking her 8-year-old son to walk a half-mile home through a suburban neighborhood in Waco. She was charged with endangering a child — a felony in the state — after someone saw the boy walking alone and called the police.

Something similar happened in an affluent Chicago suburb back in 2018. A neighbor contacted authorities after seeing a young girl walking a dog alone. Although the 8-year-old was just a block away from home, her mother was investigated for neglect.

More than 37% of all U.S. children experience a child protective services investigation by age 18, according to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health. Most of those investigations involve allegations of neglect, but that definition varies from state to state.

Now, lawmakers in red and blue states are passing legislation to make it clear what is and isn’t considered neglect.

In June, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont signed legislation giving parents a greater role in determining when their children can be unsupervised. It received unanimous support.

“The helicopter parent has turned into the snowplow parent,” said Republican State Rep. Tom O’Dea, who spearheaded the legislation. “Kids are not having time to just be kids with other kids.”

O’Dea hopes the law will encourage parents to give their kids more independence so they can develop important life skills.

Earlier this year, lawmakers in Virginia unanimously approved a similar plan to protect children’s right to engage in age-appropriate, independent activities like walking to school alone.

Democratic Sen. Jennifer Boysko, the chief co-patron of the legislation, said it was a necessary, “common sense,” change.

“I think everybody realizes together that children are best when they are given a little bit of responsibility and agency,” she said.

Recent research backs up that assertion. In fact, the broader decline in independent activity may be directly contributing to the growing mental health crisis among children.

In order to solve the problem, organizations like Let Grow are trying to give children, and parents, the tools they need to thrive.

“We keep wondering: Why are kids so anxious? Why are they bad at problem-solving? Why are they so passive in class? Well, it’s because there’s always been an adult there,” Skenazy said.


Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Trending on NewsNation