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Utah becomes first state to pass 'free-range parenting' law

Utah has become the first state to legalize “free-range parenting," codifying that kids can participate in unsupervised activities without their parents facing neglect charges.

Utah. Gov. Gary Herbert (R) signed the law earlier this month that redefines child “neglect,” ABC News reported Tuesday.

“Absence evidence of clear danger, abuse or neglect, we believe that parents have the best sense of how to teach responsibility to their children” Herbert said in a statement.

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The new law prevents parents from being considered negligent by state authorities for letting their child walk outside alone, play without supervision or wait alone in a car.

State Sen. Lincoln Fillmore (R), a sponsor on the bill, said society has become “too hyper” about protecting children and ends up sheltering them from opportunities.

“Kids need to wonder about the world, explore and play in it, and by doing so learn the skills of self-reliance and problem-solving they’ll need as adults," Fillmore said.

Lenore Skenazy, the author of “Free Range Kids," a book about letting her 9-year-old ride the New York subway alone, says she contacted Fillmore about the proposal.

"My law is the way that our kids have the right to some unsupervised time, and we have the right to give it to them without getting arrested," Skenazy said.

Parents will disagree about what age a child should be allowed to do certain activities without an adult. But the law will prevent authorities from starting investigations into parents, who have the right to choose, she said.

"I would definitely not let a 3-year-old play in the park alone, but I definitely would let their 10-year-old sister play in the park for an hour and come home," she said. "I definitely would let my 7-year-old walk to school, but maybe you won't let your 7-year-old walk to school."

Dr. Dave Anderson, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, said Tuesday that free-range parenting should be considered on a “case-by-case” basis. 

"If your 12-year-old is capable of walking home from the bus stop by themselves, that's something that you might make a decision about where another 12-year-old may be too impulsive," Anderson said on "Good Morning America." 

Anderson encouraged parents to use “common sense” and have clear guidelines with their children about safe practices.

The bill passed unanimously through both houses of Utah’s legislature and goes into effect in May.