“Free-Range Kid” Legislation: Pretty Sad That It Needed a Law

Posted on December 14, 2015


A little bit of common sense may be returning to our schools. On 10 December, President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act, which overhauls the disastrous “No Child Left Behind” law. Love it or not, the idea is to get the Federal Government mostly out of the education business and return control of curricula to the states. But buried within it was a small victory for parents everywhere who are sick to death of nosy neighbors, busybodies, and the nanny state getting them arrested for allowing their children to… for example… play outdoors unsupervised, or walk or bike to school or to a friend’s house.

For the first time, the government has codified the notion (so common-sense to older folks among us) that – gasp! – parents can make their own decisions about letting their kids get their own little selves to school, rather than having to be bubble-wrapped, sanitized, then chauffeured in an anti-predator armored vehicle.

   “…nothing in this Act shall…prohibit a child from traveling to and from school on foot or by car, bus, or bike when the parents of the child have given permission; or expose parents 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 age appropriate.”

I don’t know whether to cheer or cry. On the one hand, it’s about damn time we woke up and realized that we’re not doing our kids or our nation’s future any favors by keeping our kids on a three-foot leash until they turn eighteen and are released into the wild with zero experience, confidence, or competence. On the other hand, it’s pretty sad that we ever got to this point of destructive over-protectiveness, and that we actually need a law to say it’s okay to let your kid grow up at the rate you see fit. It’s also a law without a whole lot of teeth, since it includes this disclaimer:

“…nothing in this section 10 shall be construed to preempt State or local laws.”

So… if your state still insists that everyone under age eighteen has to be indoors at home with an adult, or in school under adult supervision, or playing organized sports under adult supervision, or safely locked into a car seat while being chauffeured to these few state-sanctioned activities… the new law won’t help you much. You will still have to bubble-wrap your kid and strap him into your predator-proof vehicle for the 80-foot drive from your front door to his school bus stop.