September 21st, 2021


The Right of Kids to Walk to School

Lenore Skenazy

By Lenore Skenazy

Published July 29, 2015

Who's that peeking out from behind the blinds as the kids pass by the house? Could it be the kind of creep every parent dreads?

You know — a busybody ready to call 911 to report an unsupervised child?

Soon enough, we may not have to worry about buttinskis like that anymore. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, a supporter of the "free-range kids" movement, has proposed groundbreaking federal legislation to protect the rights of kids who want to walk to school on their own — and the rights of parents who let them.

Yes, a free-range kids provision made its way into the Every Child Achieves Act, a reauthorization of a major federal law that governs funding and regulation of elementary education in the United States. The free-range part would permit kids to walk or ride their bikes to school at an age their parents deem appropriate, without the threat of civil or criminal action.

Laws such as this one could prevent — or at least deter — local officials from waging harassment campaigns against parents who want to give their kids some old-fashioned independence. For instance, if this had been the law of the land when the Meitivs allowed their kids to walk home by themselves in Maryland, it might have prevented the whole shebang: two police interventions, two investigations by Child Protective Services, two "safety plans" the parents were forced to sign and one five-hour detainment of the kids. (Though, admittedly, the tykes, 10 and 6, were walking back from the park, not school.)

Anyway, the Senate passed the act last week. The next step is for the House of Representatives and the Senate to hammer out any discrepancies between their respective versions of it before revoting and sending the legislation on to President Barack Obama.

That means Obama could sign actual free-range legislation into law.

Right now, the major threats to parents raising free-range kids are actually at the state and local levels, but Lee was looking for some way to get federal support for their rights. "Like many parents, I've been disturbed by recent stories of parents being prosecuted for giving their children the kind of age-appropriate independence that adults today remember as normal and happy parts of their own childhoods," the senator wrote me in an email. "Unsupervised adventure is part of how children learn, and grow, and build the skills and friendships that prepare them for life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness."

He added that though "helicopter parents" should be free to raise their kids as they see fit, free-rangers "have the exact same rights."

Though in the end the senator could not support the final version of the bill, his amendment was added with bipartisan support, and it was unanimous.

This means that right, left or center, politicians are waking up to the free-range idea, which also happens to be an American idea: Kids have the right to be part of the world, just like all the other groups whose rights we fought for. And parents have the right to send their kids outside, the way our own parents did.

And so the tide begins to turn.

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