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Free-range parenting: What is it, and is it legal?

Parenting methods have become a hot-button issue for today’s moms and dads. Though many baby boomers’ parents raised them according to nothing but their own parenting instincts, today’s children are subject to a wide variety of parenting techniques.

One of the best-known of these methods is “helicopter parenting,” in which a mother and father monitor their children as closely as if hovering over them in a helicopter. A less-known but increasingly popular parenting style is “free-range parenting,” which grants children age-appropriate independence.

What is free-range parenting?

Free-range parenting is not without controversy. In 2015, a Maryland couple allowed their 10-year-old and six-year-old children to walk to a park without supervision. When neighbors noticed the children were unaccompanied, they contacted Child Protective Services. As a result, the parents were investigated for suspected child abuse and neglect. This sparked a massive outcry. Many parents were concerned that allowing their children to go outside alone would result in criminal charges.

A new, free-range parenting law

Last week, the State of Utah passed a law stating that it is not criminal for parents to allow their children to play outside while unsupervised or to walk home alone. The law also specifies the parameters of child neglect and explicitly states that allowing children to “engage in independent activities” is not neglectful. This so-called “free-range parenting law” was created in response to lawmakers’ concern that parents would be unnecessarily subject to law enforcement investigations.

Free-range parenting in New York

A similar bill will be introduced in Idaho in 2019, and other states may follow suit. But so far, New York State does not have any legislation on the docket regarding free-range parenting. This means that parents may still be subject to CPS investigations or even criminal penalties for allowing their children to walk to and fro without supervision. Parents must carefully weigh their children’s independence against their safety, and weigh free-range parenting against potential legal trouble.

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