kid at playground alone

Why We Oppose Age Limits on Childhood Independence

As more states start to pass what we used to call “Free-Range Parenting” laws (and now call “Reasonable Childhood Independence” laws), some lawmakers are willing to go along, or even sponsor such legislation — with a caveat.

They want the laws to include an age limit, like, “A child of 9 or above can ride their bike, play outside, stay home alone for a while….”

These lawmakers are well-intentioned, but they miss a basic fact of parenting: Sometimes a 9-year-old is playing outside with his 4-year-old sister. Is that okay, or not? Under a law with age limits it isn’t — not if a child can’t be outside without adult supervision till age 9.

Or what if, suddenly, a mom has to leave her twin 6-year-olds at home because of a work or family emergency? A law stating, “Not until age 9” criminalizes this rational seat-of-the-pants decision that has nothing to do with neglect.

At Let Grow today, we spell out all the reasons age limits are a bad idea. (Click here.)

We know people may say, “But without an age limit, parents may think they can send their 2-year-old outside to play at 10 at night!” To which we reply: We are not nuts. That behavior concerns us, too, which is why the laws always state that parents are allowed to determine what age they think their kids are ready for some unsupervised time BUT they must not leave their kids in obvious danger.

A 2-year-old allowed to wander in traffic in the dark IS in obvious danger, so it is prohibited by our “Reasonable Independence” laws.

Hence the term,”Reasonable.”

The laws passed with Let Grow’s support in Utah, Oklahoma and Texas give parents back the right to make reasonable decisions, while allowing (expecting!) the authorities the right to follow up when they don’t.

Win/win and — for kids — WIN! – L.



4 Responses to Why We Oppose Age Limits on Childhood Independence

  1. Roger July 15, 2021 at 6:08 pm #

    Some 6yo kids can be left alone with a lot less worries than I would have about some 18yo kids.

    Ideally the parents would systematically put the kid in independent situations, carefully controlled at first. An outsider cannot judge what is reasonable.

    The article says it has all 50 states, but a lot of states are missing.

  2. Emily July 15, 2021 at 7:52 pm #

    >>Some 6yo kids can be left alone with a lot less worries than I would have about some 18yo kids.

    Ideally the parents would systematically put the kid in independent situations, carefully controlled at first. An outsider cannot judge what is reasonable.

    The article says it has all 50 states, but a lot of states are missing.<<

    Roger, you have a point there. The biggest worries with teenagers (even older teenagers) are things like sex, drugs, and alcohol, which aren't even on a six-year-old's radar screen. I've had incidents of being forgotten after school in kindergarten (older girl was supposed to walk me home because neither one of my parents was available, she never showed up, so I walked home alone, and found an adult to help me cross the one semi-busy street that I wasn't allowed to cross alone), and in grade one (my mom got stuck at a meeting, so I went with my best friend to her house, and her mom called mine, at my request). Both of those times, I was unsupervised, but made responsible decisions.

    Many years later, when I first became old enough to drink (19 here in Ontario), I made a few mistakes here and there, because, with a firm minimum drinking age, that was the same for beer, wine, and hard liquor, and it didn't matter if you were alone or with others who could help if there was a problem, because I didn't know how much I could safely imbibe. Eventually, I decided that I didn't want to drink at all (except maybe a hot toddy when I have a cold). But, I think the reason why I was able to make rational decisions at five and six, was because I'd been allowed to play outside in the yard or at the playground without direct adult supervision, and I'd learned about traffic safety and rules around strangers from my parents, in school, and on various children's television shows.

    Anyway, there was a gradual progression with my childhood freedoms and responsibilities–and, my parents were considered fairly overprotective by 80's/90's/early 2000's standards, so the progression went (much) more slowly than I would have liked, but they understood that there had to be a progression–playing outside alone in a fenced yard at three, unfenced yard at four, participating in extra-curricular activities without an adult at five and six, walking to and from school alone at eight or nine, staying at home alone, and taking the city bus alone at twelve, and so on. "No independence at all until X age" doesn't work, because a young person who's had no practice at doing something, and then does it for the first time, is going to make mistakes, be deemed "not ready," or "too young," and then X age will keep getting higher for everyone.

  3. Resident Iconoclast July 15, 2021 at 10:41 pm #

    Well damn. They need to run right over to that cemetery and exhume my parents so they can be properly executed. I was “wondering around in traffic” (on a bicycle) when I was 9 years old, far from home. All my friends were too. And now we have graduates of schools who can’t live without mom and dad, nor do virtually anything else for themselves.

    My parents should have been ashamed of themselves, for hatching a bunch of Boomers who had fun childhoods and they ascended to legislatures and now want to send anyone having fun straight to prison.

  4. Common sense July 16, 2021 at 5:09 am #

    That’s the problem when you have so called safety experts and risk avoidance experts. In order to stay employed more and more things are considered dangerous by them and the age to do them safely increases. I’m not saying kids should be thrown out to figure it out as soon as they walk, but when you criticize parents making decisions based on their know.edge of what the individual chid has shown they can handle, the state then owns your child. One size or age fits all does not and never has existed in reality (except in politicians heads). Let parents be parents and not live in terror of some Karen calling cops because,gasp, there are children playing in their own yard without a parent hover . I truly believe this will not be solved until anaymous reporting is banned and cops is disolved. Call the police for real abuse. They will get tired of. False complaints fast enough if they are the ones who have to investigate and at least our civil right of presumed innocent until proven guilty will be in effect unlike cps’s guilty immediately and you will never be able to prove yourself innocent, just unfounded at this time