Last May the state of Utah enacted an odd, new law. What makes this law unusual is it allows people to do something when most legislation and laws normally restricts a person’s activity or conduct. This new law in Utah allows parents to let their children go out and play alone without fear of being arrested.
Other states now want to jump on the bandwagon with their own Free-Range children legislation which tells parents it’s alright to let kids walk to school and play in the park –gasp– alone. What isn’t clear is just when did it become a crime to let kids out of your sight?
Over the past two generations a gradual shift in parenting has taken place. The rule once was “go out and play, but be home when the street lights come on”. Now a child can’t walk to school alone.
Backing up that statement is a survey conducted by the Norwich Police a few years ago that found ZERO children walked to Perry Browne School. Every child attending that school either rode a bus or climbed out of a car at the traffic circle each morning. And that same survey found over 100 cars converged on the school within a 20-minute time span.
Parents need to get past the fear that something will go wrong if their child is out of sight, or for some helicopter parents, when a child is out of arms reach. Chances are great that nothing bad is going to happen. Statistics show all crime and particularly crimes against children are down considerably. This includes abduction by strangers – which has always been a rarity. The 24/7 cable news reporting, which also started within the past two generations, has made parental anxiety the normal way of thinking. It is probable more harm than good is done by restricting children’s movements.
Nay-sayers believe a bogeyman lurks behind every bush and calamity is just a solo bicycle ride away. A generation of children grew up eating their breakfast cereal while gazing at the picture of a missing kid on the side of a milk carton. They also had the phrase “stranger danger” pounded into their brains. Now these children are having kids of their own; not only that, some of these children have grown up to become social workers and police officers with their childhood lessons learned still guiding them. This is similar to baby boomers fear of nuclear war.
Exploration and experimentation help develop a sense of confidence in everybody––especially children. Kids need to do these activities alone or with their peers. The current trend is sending kids to organized, supervised activities, while the parents stand nearby and watch. Adults at work hate to be micromanaged and the same goes for children when they are trying to have fun.
Let kids go out and play in the neighborhood; let them make new friends and learn social skills with people they meet on their own. Also important: let them meet people they don’t like in order to learn how to deal with that.
When it comes to making arrests for adults putting kids in a bad environment in New York, there is a law that serves as a catch-all for police officers. It is known as Endangering the Welfare of a Child. In summary this law says it is wrong for an adult to knowingly act in a way that a child under 17 years old will likely be injured physically, mentally or morally. Of course the actual law is much more detailed and you can read it for yourself, it is Penal Law Section 260.10.
New York doesn’t need a whole new law enacted. It only needs one word changed in the current law; “likely” needs to be replaced by “imminently” before the word injured. That would stop mothers and babysitters from worrying about being charged for letting an 11-year-old boy walk to the store alone, or a father getting arrested for leaving a 10-year-old girl in a car parked at the pumps while he goes inside to pay for gasoline.
If a parent allows their child to assume some risk at a younger age, they will develop a child with more confidence, self-sufficiency and decision making abilities. This child will also be ahead of their peers when adulthood approaches making them stand-out from the pack in a good way.
This is why colleges have redshirted collegiate athletes; to give them an advantage later in their career. Even mother birds know there is risk involved with pushing their young out of the nest. But that risk is better than the young bird never leaving the protection of the nest at all.