Independent children

Lost in the glare of the regionalization bills the community has been working to defeat is another bill in the state legislature that should be passed. It is SB 806 and it seems preposterous that we need this bill, but we do.

SB 806 outlines not only what does constitute child neglect, but what does not amount to child neglect, and that’s the preposterous part. Co-sponsored by Wilton’s state Reps. Gail Lavielle and Tom O’Dea along with state Sen. Will Haskell, the bill outlines the following as not being child neglect:

  • Independently traveling to and from school near to home.
  • Traveling to and from commercial or recreational facilities close to home.
  • Unsupervised outdoor play, provided a child is mature enough and physically capable to avoid the risk of physical harm.

Testifying in favor of the bill last month were members of Wilton’s Free Play Matters Task Force: Schools Superintendent Kevin Smith; Colleen Fawcett, coordinator of Wilton Youth Services; and Vanessa Elias, president of the Wilton Youth Council. The task force has been hard at work the last few years, working to educate parents of the benefits of allowing their children to play amongst themselves in unstructured activities, like games of tag in the backyard, a neighborhood ball game, or even allowing them to go into a store by themselves. The task force has encouraged neighborhood “block parties” where families can get to know one another and children can meet playmates close to home.

Unfortunately, parents who allow their children to play with their friends like that, or walk the family dog around the block or ride their bike to school can be the subject of scrutiny by critical neighbors. There have been instances around the country where neighbors have called the police when they see children outside alone.

The task force members were joined in giving testimony before the Children’s Committee by Lenore Skenazy of the organization, Let Grow. Skenazy, who has spoken in Wilton, is infamous for a 2008 incident when, as a resident of Queens, N.Y., she let her 9-year-old son ride the subway home alone. He arrived without incident. She is a leader in the “free-range parenting” movement that supports children’s independent play.

Skenazy just this week posted on Twitter a photo of a boy shopping alone in the Village Market, evidence the free-range movement is taking hold here. When asked why he was there by himself he said, “It’s my Let Grow Project,” according to Skenazy’s website. “Our homework is to go home and ask our parents if we can do one thing on our own, without them.” People found it odd, but as more students joined in, it wasn’t odd anymore.

Parents of a certain age will no doubt remember playing by themselves or with their friends when they were young, running around their neighborhoods, having their mothers tell them to get out of the house and not come home until dinner time. There were few or none of the structured sports programs, lessons, and other activities children partake in now. Parents were not chauffeurs, bringing their kids here and there. It was up to the kids to find something with which to occupy themselves.

For the last few decades, some parents have been micromanaging their children’s lives. This only encourages dependency and an appalling lack of life skills. It’s hard to let go, but parents are not here to keep their children in the nest forever. At some point they need to fly and parents are responsible for helping them develop those skills, some of which are gained by independently interacting with their peers and other members of the community.

There is no doubt, sadly, some children who are neglected, and SB 806 spells that out. A child may be found neglected if, for reasons other than being impoverished, they are abandoned, denied proper care and attention physically, educationally, emotionally or morally. Or, if they are allowed to live under conditions or circumstances injurious to their well-being.

That is not the case for a child walking their dog, playing outside, or buying something at the store.

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