The state of Utah is the first state to pass a law based on the concept of Free-Range Parenting. According to the New York Times, “under the law, neglect does not include ‘permitting a child, whose basic needs are met and who is of sufficient age and maturity to avoid harm or unreasonable risk of harm, to engage in independent activities’ such as going to and from school by walking, running or bicycling, going to nearby stores or recreational facilities and playing outside.”
This is the nanny state in reverse. We have now become so overprotective of children we need a law for parents to allow children to walk to school, go to a store, or play in the park. My wife and I apparently violated current laws (or at least cultural expectations) for most of the time we were active parents. We not only encouraged this kind of independence, we pushed our children toward it. We were free-range parents – and thought that was the normal way children were prepared for adulthood – not some counter-cultural movement.
The news about this law was reported the same week as a major study on mental health among college freshmen was released. The demand for mental health services on college campuses is at an all-time high. Students are anxious and depressed – often unable to cope with the “stressful demands” college places on them. They even demand “trigger warnings” before anything controversial or troubling can be covered in a class. While some students truly do have mental health issues and need assistance, it strikes me that many are simply unprepared – because of their coddled upbringing – for dealing with what used to be called “life.”
Parents, your goal is not protecting your children from risks and pain at all cost. Your goal must be emotionally healthy, spiritually growing, socially functional adults. To get there, you must push your children to take risks, experience failure, handle their own conflicts, and feel some pain. That used to be called growing up – a concept seemingly abandoned in a culture intent on extending childhood into adolescence and adolescence into what should be adulthood.