GAYS MILLS - Hallelujah! Utah recently passed a law legalizing free-range parenting. This was a bold move by the Beehive State legislature, which was the first state to pass such a law. Other states are sure to follow suit as backers aim to support anxiety-plagued parents and liberate overscheduled kids.The idea is to let kids be kids and be on their own.
The new Utah statute begs the question: does making free-ranging parenting legal now mean that it was illegal before the law was passed? If so, there must be a huge statewide sigh of relief being sighed in Utah now because no doubt some kids there have always been free to roam.
Free-range parenting is the concept that giving kids the freedom to do things alone or with other kids out in the world makes them healthier, happier and more resilient. It surfaced about 10 years ago when Lenore Skenazy, an author and reality show host let her then nine-year-old son ride the New York City subway alone, setting off a firestorm of criticism. Skenazy was soon dubbed ‘America’s Worst Mom,’ which prompted her to start a Free-Range Kids Movement. Check out her Free-Range Kids site. Granted, New York City has to be a lot different than most American small towns and cities, but even there some free-ranging could take place.
Time was, we (age 40 and up, let’s say) were all raised free-range, some more than others, of course. It was a safer world back when we were kids and we were turned loose in it to learn about it and make our own fun. Most people my age tell of leaving the house after breakfast-when school was not in session-and not coming back until dinner or even supper after free-ranging around with their peers and pals all the live-long day.
A typical free-range schedule back in the day might include bike riding to a friend’s house, playing in a pickup baseball game, re-fighting World War II or the re-enactment of the taming of the west. Swimming, fishing, exploring, collecting pop bottles for the deposits, everyday was different and interesting. We didn’t know what “hanging out” (in today’s parlance) was at the time, but that’s what we were doing.
Most kids today have huge blocks of unscheduled time available for free-ranging of some kind. In a total year only 14 percent of a typical kid’s time is spent in school (I know, it seems like more) 1240 hours out of the 8760 hours in a year, if you’re keeping score at home. School is only in session roughly 50% of the days in a year, about 180 days out of 365.
Truth be told, modern kids do free-range but in a new way. It’s usually done alone, inside their rooms, inside their houses. Recent statistics show that the average five to sixteen year old spends six hours a day looking at some kind of screen, be it television, phone, computer, game console, or tablet. They, and we for that matter, are super-connected via our devices, but increasingly disconnected from each other. That really cuts into the reality of free-ranging in the world outside.
Much is written about parents’ concerns of their kids being over involved with technology. But how do we cut, or control, the technology cord and get kids out into the real world? Pass a law?