Utah has become the first state legislature to "legalize" something that should be a natural part of childhood: playing outside without constant adult supervision.
The law, called the "Free Range Kids Bill," makes it clear that parents in Utah can allow their children to play outside in nearby parks, ride their bikes, and even walk a couple of blocks by themselves, without being charged with child neglect, according to USA Today.
It may sound insane — after all, why on Earth would a state have to legalize children playing outside with other children, riding their bikes in the neighborhood or walking a few blocks to the store? But it turns out, it's a law that was desperately needed, as Utah parents have seen the number of calls to law enforcement to report their neglectful behavior soar in recent years.
USA Today cites a handful of examples, but there are plenty available. Parents in Utah, Maryland, New Jersey, Oregon, and elsewhere have all felt the wrath of local busybodies, and found themselves on the wrong side of the law for things like giving their own kids permission to play at local playgrounds.
This rash of complaints spawned the "Free Range Kids" movement, which seeks to defend parents who let their kids be kids. And Utah's law — the first of its kind in the nation — could be a model for other states where parents have found themselves accused of criminal neglect.
"It’s not neglect if you let your child experience childhood,” the bill's sponsor, Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, told local media in Salt Lake City. "The message is you need to protect your kids but we are not doing kids any favors if we shelter them to the point where they are not learning how to function."
Another Utah legislator said that the bill "is to prevent in Utah a problem that has happened in too many other states … where parents have been prosecuted, gotten in trouble for doing nothing more than allowing a child to play outside or go to the park."
The law doesn't render the existing abuse and neglect laws toothless. Those laws, legislators say, were intended to protect children but are now being used in ways that they did not anticipate — to punish parents for behavior that isn't actually abusive or neglectful.
It's something of a sad commentary, though, that this law even needs to be written.