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Tom Purcell: Time to return to free-range parenting

| Tuesday, July 10, 2018, 12:27 p.m.

Maybe a new Utah law will revive the lost art of parents calling their children home for dinner.

Utah recently passed the nation’s first “free-range parenting” law to protect parents from prosecution for allowing their children to play in nearby parks, walk to school, go to the store or rumble through a neighborhood creek — without adult supervision.

It’s a shame that it now takes passing laws to allow kids to enjoy childhood activities without adult supervision, but we must.

We must because, according to Parents Magazine, nearly 75 percent of parents fear their children are at risk of being abducted.

Some 30 percent of parents fear child abduction more than they do car accidents, sports injuries or drug addiction involving their children. Parental fears have been stoked for decades by sensationalistic news stories on the internet and cable television, 24/7 — fears that, regrettably, are woefully out of sync with reality.

According to The New York Times, among America’s roughly 40 million elementary school-age children, approximately 115 are abducted by strangers each year — while 250,000 are in car wrecks.

According to The Washington Post, “children taken by strangers or slight acquaintances represent only one-hundredth of 1 percent of all missing children.” Such abductions are also on the decline.

In any event, media-stoked fears have changed childhood forever, prompting “helicopter parents” to “hover” over their children every moment of every day — placing undue burdens and stress on children and parents alike.

Lenore Skenazy says the heck with that.

Skenazy, an American blogger, columnist, author and reality-show host, wrote a newspaper column in 2008 that explained her decision to allow her then-9-year-old son to ride on the New York City subway alone.

The column sparked a flood of outrage among stressed-out parents and won her the label of “America’s Worst Mom.” It also led to Skenazy penning the book “Free Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry.”

Some 10 years later, Skenazy’s advocacy culminated in the passing of Utah’s new “free-range parenting” law, which hopefully will enable children to enjoy the sort of unsupervised freedoms we baby-boom kids experienced in abundance — and bring back the lost art of parents calling their children home for dinner!

In the ’70s, after we spent the day outdoors building shacks, going on bike hikes, swimming in a neighbor’s pool or enjoying dozens of other activities without adult supervision, our parents called us home for dinner.

Every parent’s dinner call had a unique sound. My father went with a deep, booming “Tom, dinner! Tom, dinner!” I could hear him a mile away or more.

When moms did the calling, they always used full names. They often sang, too, as my Aunt Jane did: “Miiiiiikkkeeelllll, Keeeeevvvviiiiinnn, suuuuuppppppeeerrrr!”

The Givens boys, up on the hill across the railroad tracks, were called in by a large bell. The clanging sounded at 6 every night, giving us the sense that a riverboat was making its way up the Mississippi or a chuckwagon was calling in cowboys for some grub.

These mystical summer sounds have been gone a long time now — too long.

Hopefully, the efforts of gutsy moms like Lenore Skenazy will gradually restore the happy, artful sounds of those shouts, chants and bells carrying through the sweet summer air.

Tom Purcell, a freelance writer, lives in Library. His books include “Misadventures of a 1970s Childhood” and “Wicked Is the Whiskey,” a Sean McClanahan mystery. Email him at:

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