Tuesday, August 28, 2018
Moms throughout country under investigation while Utah's 'free-range parenting' law said to be first in the nation
The Washington Post (Mar.28, 2018): Utah's 'free-range parenting' law said to be first in the nation, by Meagan Flynn:
Lenore Skenazy reinvigorated debates about best parenting practices when she decided to let her 9-year-old ride the New York City subway alone (with a map, MetroCard, and cash) to instill in him independence in 2008. After the court of public opinion contested whether she was a terrible or great parent, Skenazy wrote a book on her philosophies and coined the term "free-range parenting."
The idea was to let her child engage in "various activities without stifling supervision." Unforunately, many parents who subscribe consciously or not to Skenazy's "free-range" style have encountered the scary side-effects of leaving their children without supervision: interference from child services or the police.
A mother in Chicago allowed her 8-year-old to walk their dog around the block. After the girl arrived safely home, the police stopped at their home upon receiving an anonymous tip about a child walking alone. The investigations that ensue in these scenarios are looking for child neglect. And even if the parents under investigation are cleared by officials (whether child services or the police), they have to endure "invasive and stressful" investigations that can not only be humiliating but are often considered a waste of time and resources. "Experts say that the problem stems from vague laws that often ensnare well-meaning parents who are trying to give their children freedom or responsibility."
A sociology professor at the Univesity of Illinois at Chicago, Barbara Risman, also notes that the expectation that mothers keep "a constant eye on their children" doesn't often extend to fathers:
This shaming mechanism underlies the cultural logic that women should spend all their time making sure their children are never alone. The opposite is true of dads. No one presumes fathers have a moral responsibility to take care of (their children). When they do, they get praise and positive reinforcement.
Child abuse and neglect laws can be vague, defining neglect, for example, as leaving a child under 14 "without supervision for an unreasonable period of time without regard for the mental or physical health, safety, or welfare of that minor." Those charged with investigating a report of neglect generally find it important to thoroughly explore every allegation.
Society is pushing back, though, against what it considers unreasonable surveillance of reasonable parenting. The free-range parenting concept has now translated into law in Utah. State Senator Lincoln Fillmore (R) sponsored the measure, which exempts a range of activities children of a "sufficient age" can do without supervision from the definition of child neglect. These activities include walking, running, or biking to and from school or recreational facilities as well as playing outside or staying inside at home unattended. While the bill was in committee earlier this year, Fillmore told Fox 13:
As a society, we’ve kind of erred, as our pendulum has swung for children’s safety, a little bit too much to the side of helicopter parenting, right? We want kids to be able to learn how to navigate the world so when they’re adults they’re fully prepared to handle things on their own.
Skenazy, too, has remained involved in the conversation. Arkansas attempted to pass a similar bill last year. It failed in committee from fears of child abduction. Skenazy wrote: “Why give kids freedom — why give parents freedom — when you can take it away so easily and say you’re championing safety in the process?”