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Las Vegas Parents: Let Children Roam Free Or Monitor Their Every Move?

Children walking in neighborhood

Recent cases of parents being charged with neglect after letting their children play alone or walk home alone has people debating the idea of free-range parenting.

Before cell phones and interactive video games, neighborhood kids knew how to get ahold of one another by looking out for where their friends’ bikes were parked.

But horror stories about kidnappings and other crimes have deterred parents from letting their children have the freedom of roaming the neighborhood without supervision. Some parents, however, have rejected this precaution and continue to embrace a concept now being called  free-range parenting.

It’s an idea other European countries,  such as Germany, are much more practiced in than Americans. Some studies suggest that children who are more sheltered are at higher risk for emotional disorders such as depression and anxiety. There have been reports, however, of parents being charged with negligence for letting their children walk home from school, for example.

Lenore Skenazy is one of the first people to talk about the concept and was vilified by many for it. Six years ago, she wrote a column about letting her then 9-year-old son ride the subway in New York City.

Skenazy points out that her son had ridden the subway many times. He knew the neighborhood and she knew him.

“He’s ready” Skenazy said.

Since that column Skenazy has been an advocate for the free-range movement. She believes parents are hurting their children by keeping them under lock and key at home.

“There’s really no upside to holding our kids so tightly that we are sort of Rapunzeling them. We’re holding them in the tower,” Skenazy said.

She said that in reality a child is much more likely to be hurt or killed in a car accident than kidnapped off the street by a stranger, but parents have allowed themselves to be paralyzed by fear that their children are at constant risk for something that is actually very rare.

Nonetheless, children's safety is of the utmost concern, and some parents say it’s just not worth it.

Las Vegas presents unique challenges, given the city’s propensity for the vices - glorifying the party life and advertising sex and alcohol like it’s going out of style. Not only that, Las Vegas has one of the worst pedestrian death rates in the country.

Jarret Keene has two boys and he lives downtown. He drives is sons, aged 9 and 7, to the school just three blocks from his home. Keene admits that part of the reason for his fear is because he lives downtown.

“I choose to be more hovering than other parents,” Keene said.

When asked about leaving his downtown neighborhood for an area of town that might be considered safer, Keene said it is a trade off, but one he is willing to make.

“I want my kids to know what is out there. I just don’t want them running directly into it,” Keene said.

Denise Tanata-Ashby is the executive director of the Children’s Advocacy Alliance, an agency that helps children with issues of abuse.

She said that how ready a child is to be on her own can really depend on her maturity level. But when it comes to the legal issue of when a parent could face charges, the law can be fuzzy.

“Now days, parents ask of everything they do ‘Is this going to be considered neglect?’ ‘Am I going to be picked up by child protective services?’ Tanata-Ashby said.

It is really up to the parents to ask whether leaving their child alone is worth the risk, not only to their child but also from authorities who might consider it neglect.

Risk is really the question for marriage and family therapist Mary Hartsell. She told KNPR’s State of Nevada that she supports letting children enjoy free, unfettered, play but allowing them do enjoy that play by themselves on the streets doesn’t seem worth it.

“Why we would want to put children out there to potentially face harm, I don’t understand that concept,” Hartsell said.

She said if something did happen there is no way to give that child back his innocence and explaining to them their parents’ belief on free-range parenting will not help any emotional scars.

Hartsell believes parents will be better served by helping their children understand that it is not a scary world but a world in which we need to be safe.

Jarret Keene, Las Vegas parent;  Denise Tanata Ashby, executive director, Children's Advocacy Alliance; Mary Hartsell, licensed marriage and family therapist; Lenore Skenazy, founder of free-range movement

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Prior to taking on the role of Broadcast Operations Manager in January 2021, Rachel was the senior producer of KNPR's State of Nevada program for 6 years. She helped compile newscasts and provided coverage for and about the people of Southern Nevada, as well as major events such as the October 1 shooting on the Las Vegas strip, protests of racial injustice, elections and more. Rachel graduated with a bachelor's degree of journalism and mass communications from New Mexico State University.