Playing outside, staying home alone shouldn’t be illegal for kids | EDITORIAL

The Nevada State Legislature Building. (Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @benjaminhphoto

The criminalization of parenting and childhood has been on the advance for decades. Slowly, however, the tide may be turning. Nevada lawmakers should take notice.

Last week, Colorado became the fourth state to pass legislation that more rationally defines “neglect” in an effort to ensure parents aren’t ensnared in the criminal justice system for allowing their kids to engage in what were once normal childhood activities.

“We certainly don’t want parents getting in trouble because their kids were playing on the playground,” Colorado Gov. Jaren Polis, a Democrat, said about the bill.

Yet there are numerous examples of incidents across the country in which the police or child welfare officials have threatened parents for simply letting their children engage in unsupervised play or other recreation. Lenore Skenazy, president of Let Grow and founder of “Free-Range Kids,” has been documenting them for years.

For example, in a syndicated column during the pandemic, she wrote about a distraught Texas father who received a visit from child protective services because he was letting his children play in the front yard by themselves. The caseworker questioned him for 40 minutes and told him he was breaking the law.

In a piece last week for Reason magazine, Ms. Skenazy noted that, during testimony at the Colorado Legislature, a young girl told lawmakers that she had been thrilled as a 7-year-old when her mother allowed her to take a run around the block by her lonesome. As she was nearing home, she noticed a car following behind. She ran to her house, and the police arrived shortly after. The driver of the vehicle had called the authorities. The girl subsequently became fearful of being outside by herself.

“The new law” in Colorado, Ms. Skenazy writes, “narrows the definition of neglect, making it clear that a child is not neglected simply because a parent lets them engage in normal childhood activities, like playing outside without adult supervision or staying home alone for a bit.”

Granting children reasonable autonomy as they mature is vital to helping them become confident and independent young adults. Unfortunately, Nevada legislators missed the opportunity last session to promote such common sense. Senate Bill 143 — a proposal similar to the measure that just passed in Colorado — died in the Assembly in 2021 after unanimously passing in the upper chamber.

The Legislature will have plenty to deal with when it reconvenes in February. But lawmakers should make it a priority to draft a new version of SB143 for swift consideration and approval. Nevada families deserve as much.