“Free Range Parenting” now “legal” in Utah

By MamaLiberty

Utah legalizes ‘free-range parenting’

The law states that children must be mature enough to handle each situation — though it does not specify an age.

It will go into effect May 8.

The bill determines situations that children can engage in that would not be considered parental neglect: traveling to and from school or recreational facilities, playing outside or sitting in a car unattended, provided safe conditions.

Ah yes, the noose around the necks of Utah parents was slightly loosened here, but any resemblance to “free range” for children is merely an illusion.  As with all such “laws,” the devil is in the details… and in those who make up the definitions or interpret them afterwards – in court?

What does it mean for children to “be mature enough?” Who decides, and by what criteria? The only ones who know the maturity level of children are their parents, some extended family members, and – occasionally – a teacher.  “Lawmakers” in the state capital do not have a clue.

The “bill” decides which activities would not be considered “parental neglect” – again, based on what criteria? Doesn’t sound like much freedom to me. All of the  do-gooders who currently put their nose into the business of others would continue to do so, with parents being forced to defend themselves in court with the extremely thin veil of this “law” to back them up. Mighty frail support.

Let me tell you a little about my own “free range” childhood, and some of the fun my own children enjoyed.

I was born in 1946, in a small town (today we’d call it a suburb) just north of Los Angeles. As soon as I could walk/run and find my own way home, I traveled up and down our street daily. There were plenty of other children in the neighborhood, and we dashed around, playing hard. If we scraped a knee or got the wind knocked out of us somehow, the closest Mother took us in, fixed the boo-boo, wiped the tears and usually handed us a cookie or a warm tortilla. I don’t remember a serious accident or injury, but I’m sure everyone was prepared to deal with it if it happened. Every child knew without doubt that they’d be in real trouble if they didn’t get home by dinnertime, or at least long before dark.

Parents didn’t need any “law” to tell them what to do.

We didn’t have TV or a telephone. We had a radio, and Daddy read the local newspaper. This was pretty common in the area. I was too young to understand much from the outside world then, so had no problems with the fact that most people in our neighborhood were of Mexican heritage. Some families had been living in California long before it became a state in the US.

We moved after my father died. My sister and I found ourselves at home alone a good part of the time, especially in summer, because mother had to work in town. Again, there were droves of children of all ages, races and origins around, and very little supervision of any kind from adults. Many of the mothers stayed home in those days, and we always knew we could go to any of them if we had a problem. My sister, then six, broke her arm falling out of a tree one day, and the closest neighbor took her to the hospital, meeting our mother there. There was no talk of “abuse” or negligence, just a common childhood accident that would, hopefully, teach the girl not to attempt climbing into old trees. It didn’t, but she never fell out of one again.

Down the road from the neighborhood where we lived there was a small pond by the side of the railroad tracks. The pond was scummy, full of old tires and junk, and the mosquitoes were thick, but that didn’t stop us from playing there. We pulled each other out of the muck and someone was always ready to run up the hill to find a grown-up if needed. I don’t remember ever needing one.

The railroad tracks and the unguarded crossing was a source of endless interest to the children, especially the boys. They brought pennies to place on the tracks, then scrambled to find the flattened disks when the train had gone by. Nobody ever got hurt that I know of. We ranged in age from about 6 to 12, the older ones more or less keeping track of the younger ones – who were often siblings.

A lady half way down that hill had a beautiful brown Guernsey cow, and I was often sent down with a half gallon jar to buy some of the creamy milk. We’d wait for the cream to rise the next day, then skim it off and make butter. I’ve never tasted anything quite as good since.

When my sons were small, we lived on a mini “farm” with horses, calves, goats, and all sorts of livestock. We had a large garden and orchard, and a very large manure/compost pile. The boys loved to ride the horses, and never grew tired of trying to ride the calves… without helmets or saddles, and without supervision. They didn’t usually even have permission, so their boo-boos and bruises did not receive much sympathy.  They loved to play in the mud, and their favorite game was sliding down the manure pile on a sheet of cardboard. They never even caught “colds” and were never sick.

I could write a book about “free range” childhood… the soapbox derbies, street baseball, hiking in the nearby woods and drinking from the stream that came down the mountain. Walking to and from school, the movie theater, or a hundred other places was simply not remarkable. If I listed everything, all of the helicopter parents of today would swoon, and some might just die of fright.

So, while I’m glad the parents of Utah now have a tiny bit more choice, it’s a long, LONG way from a true “free range” option.

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4 Responses to “Free Range Parenting” now “legal” in Utah

  1. Darkwing says:

    I have read about this on a number of web site and the comments are ?. A lot of people are condemning Utah for this, saying that it will just draw child molesters and child sex traffickers to Utah. No matter what people do, there will always be the ones to condemn and find fault, no matter how small. Very sad.


    • MamaLiberty says:

      We know that life can never be made risk free. The guaranteed “safety” so many are looking for is an illusion, but there is a far superior alternative. Self defense. If the people of Utah are raising passive, weak children, incapable of independent or critical thinking, it is quite possible more of them will be a target of criminals. Teaching them self responsibility, rational self defense tactics, and how (not what) to think for themselves is certainly a better answer than stuffing them into hive cubicles and sealing the opening. Rational parents will not listen to the condemnation or fault finding.


  2. Tahn says:

    Great observation and article MamaLiberty. It reminds me of much of my youth. Thanks!


    • MamaLiberty says:

      Thank you! I could remember so many examples of true “free range” childhood, mine and others, that it was difficult to limit it there. Maybe I should write a book. And that would be a great title: Free Range Childhood. I’d love to have you write something about your own experiences for publication. I’d love a whole series of such essays.


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