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Letting Kids Play Outside is Not Neglect

Lenore Skenazy on

Each year, the nonprofit I helm, Let Grow, works with local advocacy groups, parents and sometimes even kids to get states to pass the "Reasonable Childhood Independence" law. This law says that "child neglect" is when you put your kid in serious, obvious and likely danger -- not anytime you take your eyes off them.

Want your kids to play outside, walk to the store, come home with a latchkey? Parents don't have to second-guess themselves in the four states where this bill has passed, always with bipartisan sponsorship. In fact, it sailed through red state Utah and blue state Colorado unanimously.

This is the testimony I always submit. Wish us luck!

"To the State Legislators:

This is regarding the so-called 'Reasonable Childhood Independence Bill,' which I am in favor of.

My name is Lenore Skenazy. After my column "Why I Let My 9-Year-Old Ride the Subway Alone" landed me on every talk show from 'The Today Show' to 'Dr. Phil,' I founded the book, blog and movement 'Free-Range Kids,' which has grown into the nonprofit Let Grow. At Let Grow, we believe in safety: Helmets, seatbelts, car seats...


We just don't believe kids need a security detail every time they leave the house.

And yet, despite crime plummeting about 50% since its peak in the '90s -- and remaining far below those tough years even now -- just 11% of kids walk to school these days. One study found that only 6% of kids ages 9-13 play outside on their own for an hour or more a week!

Instead, many kids are driven from activity to activity, and plenty more spend hours on the couch, staring at a screen. There are many reasons for this, but one is that some parents worry that even if they know their kids are capable of walking to the store, or grandma's, someone else might consider them 'neglected' and call 911.

They are scared by stories of parents whose confidence in their kids was mistaken for neglect. Parents like Kari Anne Roy, who let her 6-year-old play outside within view of the house, but was investigated for neglect when a passerby called the cops. A caseworker interviewed all three of Kari's kids, asking her daughter, age 8, 'Do your parents ever show you movies with naked people in them?' What?!? Kari was so upset. But the caseworker had to check off the boxes.


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