David Pimentel

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The legal system has been drawn into the ongoing debate about what constitutes responsible parenting in a world increasingly obsessed with child safety. While statistics show that children are dramatically safer today than ever before, media and popular paranoia about child safety are prompting parents to err on the side of overprotection. Vague statutes exacerbate the problem, enabling law enforcement and child protection authorities to condemn parental choices that fail to adhere to the new hyper-protective orthodoxy. Parents and children are both victimized by this trend. The costs and burdens of parenting have skyrocketed, and children are denied the opportunity to explore and to exercise reasonable levels of independence, levels that were the norm just fifty years ago. Pushing back against this trend, since 2018, thirteen states have considered, and four states have passed, legislation designed to protect “reasonable childhood independence.” There is reason to expect similar bills in many more legislatures in the next few years. The texts of these bills reflect wide variations in approach. It has proven difficult to craft language to give families the latitude they need without appearing to compromise the compelling interest in child safety. The many states expected to address this problem in the near future can learn important lessons from analyzing the various approaches taken and, by following the guiding principles distilled therefrom, pass laws that more responsibly and more effectively promote and protect childhood independence.

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Family Law Commons