Making It Legal to Let Kids Play Outside

By Lenore Skenazy

February 14, 2020 5 min read

America may be divided along partisan lines when it comes to everything from walls to wars, but in Colorado, two state representatives — one Democrat, one Republican — are co-sponsoring their first bill together. It guarantees that kids can enjoy some independence — walk to school, play outside, etc. — without it being mistaken for neglect.

The bill was inspired by Utah's "free-range parenting" law, passed in 2018, and should come to the floor of the House in a week or two. What a relief it would represent for Colorado parents — and what joy for kids!

Reps. Janet Buckner, D-Colo., and Kim Ransom, R-Colo., have been friends for years. They always wanted to work on some piece of legislation together, but nothing fit the bill — as it were — till this "reasonable childhood independence" act. As they wrote in the Colorado Sun, they were motivated in part by "outrage at some of the stories we've heard from friends and constituents, moms and dads who simply took their eyes off their kids for a few minutes and ended up investigated for neglect. And frankly, we both remember some of the hoops we've jumped through as moms ourselves just to make sure no one mistook us for bad parents."

One constituent told them about a time her daughter, then 7, wanted to run around the block to get some exercise. Her mom could see her almost all the way, except for a minute or two beyond her sightlines. The girl, now 10, ended up submitting testimony in favor of the bill, telling what happened next:

"The first day I started running, I saw that someone was following me in their car. I thought about knocking on someone else's door to ask for help, but I wasn't very far from my house, so I decided to just run home. Minutes after I arrived home, a police officer came and knocked on our door. My first thought was that they found the person who followed me and were going to put them in jail. But then I realized that the officer was at our house because of me. The person who followed me called the police because I was outside running by myself. I started to cry because I was scared."

While the mom was cleared of wrongdoing, her daughter has been afraid to run around the block ever since.

Over the years, the representatives heard other stories from constituents, too, including how just the fear of a possible investigation is impacting parents. One said she worries that onlookers might think her autistic child is being abused, because his behavior is odd. Another worries that her kid, a "runner," could escape her grip, run ahead — and someone could call 911 on an improperly supervised child.

And the Colorado representatives told stories from their own lives, too. Ransom, who'd been widowed suddenly as a young mom with four kids under the age of 10, remembered how anxious she felt about onlookers' judgment.

Buckner, the speaker pro tempore, says: "I remember how proud and grown up I felt when my mom started having me go to the corner grocery ... It helped me gain confidence knowing that my mother and father felt I was smart enough and strong enough to be given that freedom."

They added that they believe: "Kids rise to the occasion when we start giving them some independence coupled with responsibility. But the threat of an investigation means parents can't use their common sense. And minority moms have even more reason to worry: Fully 53% of all African American kids will be investigated by child protective services sometime in their childhoods."

By removing the threat of unwarranted investigations, parents get to parent, and kids get to be kids. It's lovely to see how bipartisan common sense can be.

Lenore Skenazy is president of Let Grow, founder of Free-Range Kids and author of "Has the World Gone Skenazy?" To learn more about Lenore Skenazy ([email protected]) and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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