Festive cheer from the land of the free

Could the USA be turning a corner in the global fight to defend children’s right to play? A remarkable pair of legal moves certainly makes it look this way. They add further support for the view that the tide is turning fast in a country with a poor reputation for upholding children’s everyday freedoms.

The first move is the overturning in the Illinois courts of a high-profile child neglect ruling against a mum whose ‘crime’ was to let her three children aged 11, 9 and 5 play together in a park within sight of her home. The details are in a post published yesterday on Lenore Skenazy’s Free Range Kids website. Commenting on the case, a Director of Child and Family Service spokesman said, “The Department will be taking a closer look at similar cases to ensure that we allow caretakers to be prudent parents and considering changes to Department rules and procedures.”

The second move is from the White House itself. Last week President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act. In doing so – again according to Lenore – he has enshrined in law the first federal free-range kids legislation. An amendment added by Senator Mike Lee states that:

“…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.”

Sen. Lee provided a supporting quote that should be in the back pocket of anyone pushing for a more balanced approach to children’s everyday freedoms in the USA:

“Our amendment protecting parents who allow their kids to walk to school is definitely a silver lining. Unsupervised moments are a huge part of how children learn, grow, and build the skills that prepare them for the rigors of citizenship and the adventure of adult life… America faces great challenges today. Kids walking to school with their parents’ permission is not one of them.”

(I know that some worry about focusing on the school trip, seeing it as a symptom of a wider tendency to ‘schoolify’ children’s lives. And they have a point: children’s freedom to get around and explore is not just about getting to school and back. But it is an important journey for children, and also a gateway to wider policy change. The Danes showed this in the 1970s, when their government imposed a duty on local authorities to improve safety on the school journey. Today, Danish children have a great deal of freedom to get around their neighbourhoods without adults. I expand on this revealing policy story in my book No Fear.)

Boy cycling in downtown Copenhagen

Boy cycling in downtown Copenhagen

I would like to give Lenore Skenazy – whose tireless, spiky, super-smart campaigning is surely a factor in these latest victories – the last word. As she says in yesterday’s post: “Last week we had national legislation passed allowing kids to walk to school, and this week we have a mom exonerated after letting her children play outside. Not bad!”

Seasonal greetings from me, and let’s hope that 2016 brings more progress in expanding the horizons of childhood.

Embed from Getty Images

Image from Getty Images (which has a huge library of images available for free non-commercial use)

5 responses to “Festive cheer from the land of the free

  1. Fantastic news and a lovely way to end the year.

  2. America the land of the free? You jest, sir, do you not? Lenore spiky? Surely the wrong tone? Merry Xmas, happy holidays and all that to you too, Tim. Here’s to a new year of positive conflict, emergent understandings, and constructive struggle towards wisdom and change.

  3. Certainly good news, and I join your applause of the campaigners that have helped to bring this about, but ‘turning a corner in the global fight to defend children’s right to play’?

    Isn’t the US one of the most risk averse societies in this respect and is this not therefore more a case of a correction to that, rather than the US setting the pace?

  4. Thanks for the comments, Adrian, Juliet and Arthur. (I’ve become temporarily tone deaf, by the way Arthur.) Adrian – if you accept the link between children’s everyday freedoms and their right to play, then the new federal law is highly significant, in the USA and beyond – and not merely as a correction to what I agree is an excessively risk averse cultural mindset. Risk aversion may be more advanced in the USA, but it is a global problem and one where the mechanisms, the analyses and the solutions are often transferable across borders. Precisely because the USA is seen as setting global trends on safety culture, the impact can be far-reaching when it takes a different tack. On my travels I’ve spoken to many frustrated British, Canadian and Australian parents whose schools tell them they have to accompany their 8- or 9-year olds (and sometimes their 10- or 11-year-olds) to and from school. They would see a law like this as a mighty fine Christmas present.

  5. https://www.rt.com/usa/326363-sikh-student-bomb-threat/

    A Sikh preteen says a bully framed him by saying he had a bomb at school, leading to his arrest.


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