Believed to be the first such law in the U.S., Governor Gary Herbert signed the Utah “free-range parenting” bill into law earlier this month after it passed both chambers of the Utah Legislature unanimously. The law amends the current definition of child neglect and makes technical changes to the current laws and will take effect in May 2018.
Under the law, neglect means abandonment of a child, lack of proper care, and abuse, but does not include allowing a child, “whose basic needs are met and who is of sufficient age and maturity to avoid harm,” to engage in independent activities. Activities include traveling to and from school, engaging in outdoor play, and being home unattended.
Dr. Leilani Nautu, Assistant Professor of Education and the Executive Director of K12 Programs at Southern Utah University, sees that this new law has sparked a hope to bring back “times gone by” for our children.
“Many hope this law will counteract the ‘ills’ that have come from having too many helicopter parents. Perhaps this law will create space for our children to grow up healthy and not obese from being kept locked up in their houses until parents can find time to supervise their children so they can go out and play. Let’s face it - most parents will not need a law like this to guide them.”
Dr. Nautu however, wonders if the pendulum has swung too far this time and the consequence could very well be the lack of safety of our children.
“One unintended consequence of the law may be that we no longer look out for children as a community. We are trained to look for unusual behavior and when we see young children unattended all our senses come alive. Many of us will intrude in others’ lives to help these children be safe. However, if it is now legal for children to have free range, how many of us will just continue on in our busy lives because the law says it’s appropriate for young children to be unattended?”
“Unfortunately, the reality is the world is not the same as when we grew up, and even now more than ever it takes a village to raise a child. It is my hope that as parents we will continue to use our good common sense to keep our children safe and that our communities (villages) will continue to play an important role.”
Dr Leilani Nautu’s research focuses on experiential education; diversity, disability, and inclusion; excellence in teaching and learning, and faculty development. She is familiar with the media and available for an interview.
Leilani Nautu Assistant Professor of Teacher Education
Specializing in diversity, disability, and inclusion, experimental education, and higher education administration