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October 17th, 2018

Society

Time to Stop Criminalizing Parents Whose Kids Play Outside

Lenore Skenazy

By Lenore Skenazy

Published Jan. 30, 2018

Time to Stop Criminalizing Parents Whose Kids Play Outside

The Utah Legislature is reviewing a bill that would decriminalize the actions of responsible parents who let their kids walk or play outside.

If the lawmakers there pass Senate Bill 65, parents who want to give their kids a smidgen of childhood freedom won't have to worry about a knock on the door from cops or child protective service workers second-guessing their decision to send the kids outside without a security detail.

State Sen. Lincoln Fillmore will present the bill. As he explained in the Deseret News, "loving parents who empower their children to practice and learn from a bit of independence should not be subject to criminal penalties."

Amen!

Utah is ahead of the curve when it comes to giving kids — and parents — their independence. It was U.S. Sen. Mike Lee of Utah who put an amendment in the Every Student Succeeds Act two years ago that said parents shall not be exposed to "civil or criminal charges for allowing their child to responsibly and safely travel to and from school by a means the parents believe is appropriate."

But that federal law added, "Nothing in this ... shall be construed as preempting a State or local law." So to make sure parents are not prosecuted for simply letting their kids take advantage of the very safe era we live in — the violent crime rate dropped yet again in 2017 — Utah is now weighing similar legislation of its own. Every state should follow its lead.

The Libertas Institute supports the bill, saying it would help "steer Utah clear of the many notorious examples happening nationwide (where) police and bureaucrats intervene, separate children, arrest parents, etc. all because of reasonable activity ... that many of us engaged in as children."

Connor Boyack, president of the institute (and father of two), says he was disturbed by stories about parents being arrested simply for letting their kids play outside or even for having them wait in the car for only a few minutes on a temperate day — another thing the Utah bill would allow, at least for kids supervised by someone older than 9.

The stories that disturbed Boyack include the cases of parents such as South Carolina's Debra Harrell, whose 9-year-old daughter was taken away for 17 days by the government after Harrell let her play in a popular park without parental supervision; Connecticut's Maria Hasankolli, who was handcuffed and arrested after she overslept and her 8-year-old walked to school alone; and Texan Kari Anne Roy, whose children were interviewed by caseworkers after she let her 6-year-old play 150 feet from home.

Roy's 12-year-old daughter was asked whether her parents ever showed her movies with people's private parts — something the girl had never heard of. And who could forget the Meitivs in Silver Spring, Maryland, investigated twice for letting their kids, ages 10 and 6, walk home from local playgrounds on their own?

As for arresting parents who let their kids wait briefly in the car, these instances are too numerous to detail. But if you want to get mad, consider the case of Illinois mom Julie Koehler, who let her kids — ages 8, 5 and 4 — wait in the minivan while she got a Starbucks coffee. A passing cop saw the vehicle, and when Koehler came out after the three-minute coffee run, he threatened to have her children taken away. Two days later, a Department of Children and Family Services rep showed up at Koehler's door and insisted the children be examined by a pediatrician for signs of child abuse.

All of these parents were eventually cleared, but only after suffering through terrible ordeals at the hands of overreaching officials.

Utah's parents deserve the right not to worry that government authorities will disrupt their families' lives simply for giving their kids some freedom.

Come to think of it, so do all American parents.

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