South Carolina

What is ‘free range parenting?’ New SC bill could change the way you raise your kids

‘World’s worst mom’ says parents should let kids play

Lenore Skenazy, writer of the Free-Range Kids blog and book, says today's parents are too protective and should let their kids play more often.
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Lenore Skenazy, writer of the Free-Range Kids blog and book, says today's parents are too protective and should let their kids play more often.

Parents in South Carolina can get in trouble with the law if they leave their kids in a parked car or let them play in a park by themselves. But a new bill in the state senate wants to change that, clarifying the rules to say kids who are old enough and mature enough don’t always have to have adult supervision.

Utah made national headlines when lawmakers approved its “free range parenting” law last year, the New York Times reports. The Utah law, like the proposal for South Carolina, says kids who are mature enough can walk to school or a park, or wait in a car while parents run errands, according to the Times.

The bill up for debate in Columbia would change the state’s child abuse and neglect statutes, clarifying the rules for law enforcement and the state Department of Social Services, according to the Free Times.

“This is not saying you can treat your children badly,” Vincent Sheheen, D-Camden, told the newspaper. “But allowing some freedom for your children before they’re adults is not neglect.”

Sheheen, who introduced the bill, said parents can use common sense to give children more freedom and independence, according to the Free Times. “Clearly you shouldn’t leave a kid in a car that’s 100 degrees, but if your kid is 12 and you run into the store and it’s 50 or 60 degrees outside — I mean, my parents did that,” Sheheen told the paper.

The change to the law states, “‘Child abuse or neglect’ or ‘harm’ does not occur if the parent, guardian, or other person responsible for the child’s welfare permits the child, whose basic needs are met and who is of sufficient age and maturity to avoid harm or unreasonable risk of harm, to engage in independent activities.”

Those activities include walking to school, a nearby store or a park, playing outside, waiting in the car or staying at home alone.

Sheheen told the Free Times the changes would give a “clearer guideline for authorities” on what constitutes child neglect when kids are left alone, the newspaper explains.

“Parents should be free to raise children in ways that they see fit without fear of someone looking over their shoulder as long as they’re not harming their child,” Sheheen told the Post and Courier.

“We encouraged our children’s independence as much as possible,” he told the newspaper. “I felt it was very important for us not to micromanage or ‘helicopter’ their lives.”

New York columnist Lenore Skenazy is credited with bringing the “free range parenting” movement to the national stage after she wrote about letting her 9-year-old son ride the New York City subway alone, according to the New York Times.

“Skenazy was roundly criticized – some called her the worst mother in the United States – after she left her son in the department store with $20 and instructions on how to use public transit to get home,” according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Utah is the only state to pass a “free range parenting” law, the AJC reports. A similar bill was introduced in Arkansas but did not pass the state house in 2017, according to the newspaper, and several other states have discussed making these types of changes.

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Charles Duncan covers what’s happening right now across North and South Carolina, from breaking news to fun or interesting stories from across the region. He holds degrees from N.C. State University and Duke and lives two blocks from the ocean in Myrtle Beach.