Relax, parents. Now you can allow your kids to walk, ride a bike, or take a bus to school, without you or your children getting arrested. The recently-signed Every Student Succeeds Act contains a section (858) that protects the rights of kids to walk or go out alone. The act was sponsored by Utah senator Mike Lee, who is a supporter of the Free Range Kids movement, and provides some hope for parents who feel that their kids should be allowed some autonomy to get by own their own.
The inclusion of a section that lets the parents choose what is appropriate is welcome. Though it doesn't replace any state or local laws, such clarification could help curb the growing trend of cops picking up kids while they play or travel unattended. We’ve all read these stories, and there is a juicy selection on the Free Range Kids blog—the mother who was arrested because her eight-year old son showed some initiative and walked to school after he missed the bus. Or the story of the Meitiv family of Maryland, whose kids (age 10 and 6) were picked up by cops in three cars and detained for six hours, away from their parents. Why? They were walking home from the park. (The parents have since been cleared of all charges).
It wasn’t always thus. In decades past, kids were not so much free-range as free-roaming. They were given a strict time to be home (usually dinner time), and that was that. Kids would spend the time between school and dinner prowling local neighborhoods, exploring woods and waste ground, and staying clear of the territory of rival schools. Parents didn’t generally follow or keep tabs, although neighbors might report bad behavior back.
Today, the combination of "stranger danger" fear and overzealous police leads to interference and intimidation. "Across the country," says free-range kids activist Lenore Skenazy, "parents are getting harassed and even arrested when they let their kids leave the house without a security detail."
In an article for the New York Post, Skenazy points out that kids today are actually in less danger as they wander the streets alone than their parents ever were. "Ironically, kids walking to school today are actually very safe—safer than their parents were. The crime level is back to what it was in 1963," she says. "As Sen. Lee wrote in an e-mail to me, ‘America faces great challenges today. Kids walking to school with their parents’ permission is not one of them.’"
We can take cheer from a law that makes explicit what all know already—that kids should be kids. After all, the only way to learn to be independent is by doing it on your own.