A Free-Range Parent Talks About the Free-Range Utah Law

 

robertbaby

My son having play-time at the beach.

 

If you read parenting news and blogs like I do, you’ve probably read that a new law in Utah that goes into effect in May, allows parents to stop being helicopters. A Wall Street Journal article called “Parents, You Can Stop Helicoptering” is written by Lenore Skenazy, the woman who let her 9-year-old child ride the subway alone in New York.

Here are some excerpts from her opinion piece:

“If you send your kid out to play in the park for an hour, or buy a carton of milk, or even walk to school, guess what? If you’re in Utah, you won’t get arrested for negligence. Woo hoo!

“You don’t have to worry about a trial, fines, mandatory parenting classes, jail time or even losing custody, all thanks to a new law passed unanimously by the Utah Legislature and signed this month by Gov. Gary Herbert. It goes into effect in May. It’s called the Free-Range Parents Law, named after the movement I started, Free-Range Kids.

“I’m the New York mom who let her 9-year-old ride the subway alone and wrote a column about it for the late, great New York Sun. That was 10 years ago April 1 (and no, it wasn’t a joke). Two days later I found myself on NBC’s “Today” show, MSNBC, Fox News Channel and National Public Radio. The hosts all asked the same question: “But Lenore, how would you have felt if he never came home?”

“Well, I did have a spare son at home. But seriously, that very question was the reason parents were going crazy with worry. Paranoia about abduction by strangers—among the rarest of crimes—was the whole reason kids were being supervised every second. The No. 1 cause of death for children is car accidents. Yet you don’t hear talk-show hosts saying: “Oh my God, you drove your son to the dentist? How would you have felt if you got T-boned by a truck?”

“I started the Free-Range Kids blog the weekend after the media firestorm, to explain that I am all for safety. I love helmets, car seats, seat belts. If you’re having a baby, my shower gift is a fire extinguisher. But I let my son go out into the big wide world without me because that’s what kids, certainly 9-year-olds, have been doing since the beginning of time.”

Her article goes on to describe hair-raising scenarios where 911 was called and Child Protective Services showed up at homes when a parent let their kids be alone for five minutes or less—or play outside the house 150 feet away. In one story, a mom went into a Starbucks and let her girls sit in their van. A police officer greeted her and threatened to take the kids away when she returned three minutes later. The next day, Child Protective Services showed up at their house and demanded a doctor examine the children for signs of abuse.

Here’s what Skenazy wrote about the law in Utah:

“The Utah law redefines neglect to exclude letting kids walk to school, play outside, remain briefly in a vehicle under certain conditions, stay at home as a latchkey kid, or engage in any “similar independent activity.” It adds that children should be of “sufficient age and maturity to avoid harm or unreasonable risk of harm,” which could leave the door open for overzealous officials. But clearly the law leans in the direction of giving Free-Range parents the benefit of the doubt.

“In America, we keep talking about how we need to raise a generation of kids who are smart, resilient problem-solvers ready to take on the chaotic, robotic economy ahead. We can’t do it by standing always by their side, solving all their problems.

“It is not negligent to believe our kids are ready for the childhood independence that made us who we are. It is negligent to deprive them of it.”

Isn’t it a shame that our children aren’t allowed the same freedom we had as kids? I never let my kids walk to the park or wander around the block alone when they were young. When I was young, we were outside if the weather allowed it. We rode our bikes around and went in and out of neighbor’s houses. I remember going to the Schutt’s house (they had teenagers who babysat us–and a horse named Snoopy.) I loved hanging out in the girls’ rooms and seeing their cool clothes, make-up and hairstyles. Their mom always gave us a cookie or popsicle, too.

My kids never had that life. We did have a child kidnapped from his front yard in a nearby town when my kids were little and it scared me to death. His body eventually was found. That one incident had a profound effect on my parenting.

I let my kids play at the park or beach, but we moms would be gathered on a blanket chatting and watching while they played. They also had their space at the pool, where they went six days a week for practice with a great group of kids. The park, beach and the pool allowed a little bit of freedom for them to explore and be with other kids, without us constantly hovering—although we were there on the sidelines ready to helicopter at a moment’s notice.

robkatrock

Freedom to play at the beach.

 

What are your thoughts about society today not allowing kids any freedom? Do you agree with the new law in Utah?

 

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If you’re a helicopter parent, there’s an app for that

 

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When it was okay to hover.

 

I’ve heard about all the apps and devices helicopter parents use to track their children’s every move—built-in devices in cars, fit bit-like bracelets and of course a host of apps.

When my kids were new to driving, we didn’t track them. I trusted my kids to be where they were supposed to be. I remember sitting at an intersection as my son raced by with a girl as his passenger—and he wasn’t headed in the right direction. Later I told him that I’d seen him and he explained that his friend asked him for a ride home. It wasn’t a big deal, but if I’d had an app or the built in car monitoring system, I’d have known and watched where he was going all the time. I don’t think that would have been healthy for either of us.

In the story “Chevrolet will let parents creep on their teens for free” by Andrew Krok, all the functions of the OnStar Family Link are explained:

Are you a frugal helicopter parent who absolutely must keep track of your freshly licensed teen? If you’ve got a Chevrolet equipped with OnStar, you can be all Big Brother without spending any cash.

Chevrolet will offer owners three months of OnStar Family Link for free. All that’s required is a 2012-or-newer Chevrolet with an active OnStar subscription. The Family Link system is free for three months, but after that, it’s just $3.99 per month plus tax.

OnStar Family Link gives you a variety of location functions, letting you keep an eye on teens who might be a flight risk. Parents can monitor a vehicle’s location, or set up email and text alerts if the vehicle leaves a defined area. It can also notify parents when a teen has reached or left a destination.

This is a bit less capable than Chevrolet’s pride-and-joy child monitoring tech, Teen Driver. Teen Driver lets parents set radio volume limits, speed warnings and even limit the overall top speed. It can mute the radio if the kids aren’t buckled, and it won’t let teens turn off systems such as stability control. It also provides parents with reports that cover distance driven, maximum speed and, if available, safety system engagements.

Lenore Skenazy of Free-Range Kids blog and World’s Worst Mom TV show fame wrote
“Verizon’s “Hum” Allows Parents to Track their Teen Drivers: Why This Stinks”

The commercial below makes my heart sink, and not because I am so thrilled when my son goes driving off.

It shows a teen girl driving like a maniac, playing hooky to go to the beach in a bikini, and sitting on the couch alone with her boyfriend about to…whatever. Then it shows how Verizon’s “Hum,” an electronic device you plug into your car that alerts you when the teen goes too fast, or beyond the boundaries that you get to set, or isn’t where she is supposed to be. You get the tracking info, you get to set the maximum speed. It does everything but put you back in the drivers seat of your child’s life.

Hum. Hmm. As a person terrified of cars in general and my boys driving in particular, road time is a minefield of worry.

But the idea that once we trust our kids to drive we do not trust them to go where they say they’re going, drive the way they tell us they’re driving, or stay where they agreed to stay means a basic bond of trust is gone. We are treating them like toddlers who need direct oversight, even though we make this happen electronically.

The device assumes parents should and must always be in control, even when we’re not there to make informed decisions. For instance, allowing parents to cap the maximum speed: What about when the kids are fleeing a volcano? Or axe murderer? Won’t we feel bad about that 50 MPH limit then? And it alerting us when our kids drive beyond the edge of the boundaries we’ve set. Is exploring always too risky? Do we want kids who never do anything spontaneous or adventurous? More profoundly: Don’t we want the locus of their moral development to be inside them…rather than inside us?

At the same time, look at the message the kids themselves are getting. First off, that even the most basic adulthood is too adult for them. And second, that as parents we are willing to give them all the freedom of a prisoner with an ankle monitor. He can go to and from work, same as our kids are allowed to go to and from school.

Although most of the articles I’ve read are against using these devices, there’s obviously a market for them. In many instances, I think they’d make parents feel more secure knowing where their kids are–so long as parents don’t go overboard.

Here’s an article called “The GizmoPal is a helicopter parent’s dream” about a device for young kids by Katherine Martinko.

LG’s new two-way communication device is designed for kids too young for cellphones so parents can keep tabs on them at all times.

There is yet another gadget on the market that makes it harder than ever for helicopter parents to teach their kids independence. LG has just introduced the GizmoPal, which provides two-way communication between parents and kids who are too young to manage their own cellphone.

It has a single button that kids can press in order to call a parent, as well as the ability to receive calls from two additional pre-approved contacts. Parents can manage their kid’s GizmoPal from their own smartphones and track it using GPS technology.

Most seriously of all, think of the psychological impact on a child of being in constant communication with a parent. How is a child supposed to learn emotional independence, deal with separation anxiety, make decisions on their own, and combat boredom if, at the touch of a button, they can talk to Mommy?

 

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Where college orientation was held for my daughter.

When I went to college orientation with my youngest child, I listened to some great advice by Dr. Kari Ellingson, Associate Vice President, Student Development at the University of Utah. I wished I’d heard her advice before I sent my first child to college. She touched on cell phones and how times have changed since we were kids.

 

I wrote about her advice in “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before The Kids Went to College.”

Cell phones according to Dr. Ellingson, are “the world’s longest umbilical cords.” Some students call home 5, 6, 7 times a day. In our day, we waited in line for the phone down the hall on Sundays — when long distance was cheaper — and horror of all horrors — there wasn’t such a thing as a cell phone!

Don’t let your child’s crisis become your crisis. Let them problem solve. Ellingson’s example was a daughter who called her mom and said, “I flunked my midterm. The professor hates me…” After consoling her crying daughter, the mother called back later with more advice. The daughter was like, “Huh? What are you talking about? Everything’s fine.”

Dr. Ellingson talked about independence: “Their first steps as a toddler are towards you. Every step after that is running away from you.”

They need to discover how to be on their own — and this is one of their fears. Delayed maturation is common. It used to be people matured around 19, 20, 21. Today it’s 26, 27 or 28. They will say to you “Leave me alone!” Then, “bail me out!” This is normal. The pendulum will swing back and forth.

Just remember to love them, guide them, but let them figure it out. The more we solve their problems, the more we delay their growth into independent, responsible adults.

Do you track your kids’ whereabouts with apps, phones, or car devices? What are your feelings about knowing every movement of your children?

 

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I can hover from the stands at meets and not be noticed.