Russel Wills licensed for reuse under cc-by-sa/2.0

Why are we — a Democrat and a Republican – both supporting a “Reasonable Childhood Independence” bill? Simple!

We believe in childhood independence.

We think that when kids get the chance to roam the neighborhood, play outside, run errands – the kind of things both of us did – that’s not neglect. That’s how kids start growing up.

But right now, the neglect law in Connecticut is too broad. It considers kids neglected if they are “without proper care,” or subjected to conditions or “associations” that are “injurious.” It doesn’t require the authorities to prove the child was in any actual danger.

Even worse, our Department of Children and Families’ child supervision guidelines say, “Experts believe a child should be at least 12 before he is left alone, and at least 15 before he can care for a younger brother or sister.”

What experts say that? Those guidelines probably criminalize half the parents in Connecticut!

Our bill fixes that. It makes clear that neglect isn’t when you let your kids play outside or walk to school. It’s when you put your kids in obvious danger, or recklessly disregard dangers to your child’s health. The age you give your kids some independence is also up to you – unless you put them in true, not imaginary, peril.

The bill will take a lot of subjectivity away from the state, and help many parents breathe easier: The ones who WANT their children to “free-range.” But also the parents who MUST give their kids some unsupervised time, because they don’t have the time or money to “helicopter.” For instance, a mom working two shifts may have her child come home with a latchkey. That’s not neglect – that’s poverty! Our law makes this clear.

In the absence of a Reasonable Childhood Independence bill, we’ve heard stories of Connecticut parents being investigated for things like letting their kids, 7 and 9, walk a mile to the Dunkin Donuts on Super Bowl Sunday, or walk home during the day. One mom was arrested for allowing her 11-year-old to wait in the car while she ran an errand!

We’ve also heard from constituents READY to give their kids some independence, who don’t. They’re not afraid of kidnappers – they’re afraid of someone calling 911!

This fear is only a generation or two old. When we were kids, our parents were allowed to let us spread our wings.

Rep. O’Dea here: I grew up in a suburban development and we would ride our bicycles until Mom would come out and yell, “Dinner!” In about sixth grade, we built a bicycle ramp and we’d play Evel Knievil to see who would fly furthest in the air. It wasn’t always the safest activity we could have engaged in -– but it was growing up. We tried to give our own kids as much freedom as reasonably possible, as well. When I was on the town council in New Canaan, one of my initiatives was to have sidewalks link the parks, schools, and playgrounds so kids could walk the whole way safely and on their own.

Rep. Simms: I grew up in Norwalk in a housing project with a single mom who raised eight children. Our father was a soldier who died in battle. Regardless of whether we were 5 or 20, we all helped out the family. We’d cross the street to pick up bacon and eggs for breakfast, or a pack of diapers. Or my mom would send us on our bikes to go pay the electric bill maybe a mile up the road. We were 7 or 8 years old. Those values are irreplaceable. If I grew up scared to take chances, I’d never have become a state legislator and two-time world champion boxer!

Both of us believe that the government should allow kids to be kids and parents to parent. Doing so actually saves the state’s resources for investigating the kids who really need help.

We’re so grateful we were allowed to explore, goof off, and help out. We got to see how much we were capable of – and show our parents, too.

Today’s kids deserve the same opportunities.

To raise a new generation of curious, confident, Connecticut kids, we’ve got to guarantee their parents won’t be investigated for neglect just for giving them some old-fashioned childhood.

State Rep. Tom O’Dea is a Republican representing New Cannan, Darien and Stamford. State Rep. Travis Simms is a Democrat representing Norwalk.