When Melissa Butler sends 9-year-old Guy and 7-year-old Sammi off to school, they walk alone.
"Ultimately I decided my parenting decisions are not going to be based on fear," said Butler.
She’s no longer concerned because Utah’s "free-range parenting" law prevents parents from being prosecuted for allowing kids to roam on their own.
"Nobody wants to see a kid abducted, but everybody wants a kid to be a kid so how do we find that balance," said Utah state Rep. Brad Daw
What is free-range parenting?
The idea can be traced back to something former New York Daily News columnist Lenore Skenazy wrote a decade ago. She let her then 9-year-old son ride the New York City subway, and got labeled as "America’s worst mom."
"If you’re neglecting a child, that’s awful. You will be prosecuted. If you’re trusting your child and you taught them to cross the street and look both ways and not go off with strangers, you’re an old-fashioned parent, and that’s not against the law," Skenazy says now.
In 2015, a Maryland couple was investigated by child welfare authorities when they allowed their then 10- and 6-year-old kids to walk home alone from a park. Cases like that prompted the Utah law.
"I don’t think that it’s healthy for them to always have mom, you know, right there watching them, making sure that they’re doing everything the way I want them to," Butler said. "It’s healthy for them to explore play on their own."
Arkansas tried to pass a similar law but failed, and New Jersey is now considering one too. Parents who support letting their children roam point to crime statistics that show violent crime has actually gone down by half since 1991.