As It Happens

Utah becomes 1st state to pass 'free-range parenting' bill

Utah's governor signed a "free-range parenting" bill into law earlier this month. Sen. Lincoln Fillmore says it will allow parents to give their kids more freedom without repercussions.

The end of helicopter parenting? Why Utah thinks it's time to give kids more independence

Sen. Lincoln Fillmore hopes the law will give parents the assurance to give their child more independence — without the fear of being held criminally liable. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

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It's about allowing your kids to do things on their own — without repercussions.

This month, the governor of Utah signed a "free-range parenting" bill into law that will amend the definition of neglect. It will go into effect in May and it is said to be a first-of-its-kind law in the United States.

As It Happens host Carol Off spoke to Utah Republican Sen. Lincoln Fillmore about why he sponsored the bill. Here is part of their conversation.

For those who don't know the term, what does it mean to say "free-range parenting?"

Free-range parenting is the idea that kids need freedom to explore the world, to discover things on their own and it helps them to learn the problem-solving skills and self-reliance that they're going to need to be successful as adults. They can do that through independent play and independent exploration.

Fillmore sponsored the 'free-range parenting' bill and says there are misconceptions about the risks of giving kids more independence. (Associated Press)

OK, what are some of the examples of free-range parenting?

Letting your kids go to the park. I remember when I was a young child, my mother would give me money and say, "Go to the store and buy me butter." So, I'd walk. The store was about a half-mile to a mile away.

We crossed under a freeway underpass, down a fairly busy road, but just walk safely to the store and give it to mom. Experiences like that really give skills they can't get if parents are hovering over them constantly.

What is now illegal in Utah?

Rather than being illegal, I'd say the law prior to my bill passing was unclear. The definition of neglect wasn't clear.

Even though we haven't had a lot of problems in Utah, across the United States, parents have been arrested or harassed or investigated, or even had children taken away from their custody for doing things as simple as letting their kids play at the park, or walk to and from school, or walk to and from the store. Those kinds of things aren't really a danger to kids.

Parents ought to have the right to be able to make a determination about what their kids are ready to do and ready to experience — and what kind of lessons they need to learn and how to learn them.

But government agencies using too broad definitions in law have just overreacted and have created a circumstance where parents are facing arrests, facing the loss of their children, for crimes as simple as letting their kids play at the park — and that's what I was trying to address by passing this bill.

The bill will amend the definition of neglect to give parents more leeway when deciding how much independence to give their children. (Utah State Legislature)

At the same time, I guess it seems that it has gone too far, the helicopter parents who are a bit out of control. But the world is full of dangers. The reasons why these laws came into place is because things can go wrong. So what are the limits? What's the line you shouldn't cross before you are neglecting your kids?

I want to push back a little bit.

I think you're right that there is a perception that the world is unsafe or that there are constant and ever-present dangers on kids, and that they run the risk of harm or injury or kidnapping.

But the truth is that those kinds of crimes have never been lower in the recorded human history, at least here in the United States.

Stranger kidnapping is almost unheard of now and much less prevalent than it was when you or I were growing up. So the overaction that comes is the fact that people are responding to a perception of danger that just doesn't really actually exist.

I'm a career educator. I have no problem with helicopter parents. As a teacher, I found them somewhat annoying. But if parents want to be helicopter parents there's no problem. 

But parents need to have the freedom not to be.

Fillmore says it's important for children to learn to play without their parents hovering over them in order to build self confidence. (John Moore/Getty Images)

There are, though, parents who are negligent and neglectful. How do you allow kids to wonder and wander and how do you protect them from bad parenting?

This bill just amended the definition of neglect to list some specific things about what [neglect] isn't. If your child is of sufficient age and maturity, then you can let them play in the park. You can let them walk to and from the school. You can let them ride their bike around the neighbourhoods.

But it doesn't change the definition of neglect, other than that.

Written by John McGill. Interview produced by Katie Geleff. This Q&A was edited for length and clarity. 

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