Grand Strand

What free-range parenting is and how it could change the way SC children are supervised

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WBTW) - You've heard of free-range chickens, but what about free-range parenting?

Basically, it's the idea that children who are old and mature enough don't always need adult supervision. It's an idea South Carolina lawmakers are looking into. 

A bill in the senate would clarify state law saying that parents who let their kids go off on their own are not neglectful. 

The bill would protect free-range parents from being charged with neglect if their child is found alone playing outside at the park, walking home from school, waiting in the car, etc.

Patrick Allen, who lives in Myrtle Beach, never lets his grandson Felix out of sight at the park.

"Crime rate, you know, kids being snatched and stuff, the sex trade and stuff, it's just not safe anymore," Allen said. 

He is not what South Carolina Senator Vincent Sheheen (D-SC) considers a free-range guardian.

"It's okay to leave your 12-year-old at home while you go to the grocery store, it's okay to allow your 8-year-old to to walk to the park if the road is not dangerous," Sheheen told News13. 

Sheheen introduced the free-range parenting bill, which would allow kids to play outdoors or be alone unsupervised as long as the child's basic needs are met and they are of sufficient age to engage in independent activities. 

That judgment would be left up to the parents or guardians. 

"There is a gray area, you know, when is it okay for a kid to walk to the park? When they're six, seven, eight? I don't think the government is in a position to tell the parent that," Sheheen said. "I think a parent is in the better position; so this says, 'Hey government, let the parents decide.'"

Norman Gagne, a father of three, said he thinks it's a great idea. "If you can make an executive decision as parents, co-parents, to say we trust they can be left alone, it should be the parents' decision," he said. 

Senator Sheheen said the law would not mean that parents can neglect or treat their kids badly, but rather would give a clearer guideline to authorities on what constitutes child neglect when kids are left alone. 

"It's just trying to change some attitudes about how we raise our children and make sure we give families the breadth they need to have to raise them the way they think best," Sheheen said. 

At one point, the bill did set a minimum age of nine for a child to be left on their own, but that's since been taken out and there are no age specifics. 

The bill was passed by a subcommittee Tuesday and will be considered by the full judiciary committee now.

If that passes it will go to the full senate floor. 

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