Parents vs. the Nanny State: Who’s Really in Charge of America’s Children?


This article is part of a series focusing on Lens of Liberty, a project of the Vernon K. Krieble Foundation

In her Liberty Minute titled “Free Range Kids,” Helen Krieble exposes an area in which the government has very little business interfering but often does so anyway: the upbringing of children.

A couple in Connecticut decided to let their kids walk home from school alone every day like many of us did growing up. But nowadays people are so worried about overprotecting children that somebody called the police and the parents are now charged with a crime.

But these parents are fighting back — they’re part of a new movement called “free range parenting,” an effort to raise future independent adults. We all want children to feel safe, but good citizenship also requires that they become self-reliant. Looking through the lens of liberty, we see that America only remains free if we all take responsibility for ourselves and our children; not rely on the government. Do we really want free range chicken but cooped-up kids?

Parents have the right to raise their children how they please, assuming no neglect or abuse — and allowing one’s children to walk home alone from school comes nowhere near either. Parents should be allowed to teach their kids self-reliance and independence, which includes giving them the freedom to walk home on their own.

Americans must be diligent in defending the right to raise their own kids. Otherwise, as we see in so many other areas, the government will inevitably step in and assert its own authority. The problem here and elsewhere is a widespread elitism among government leaders who believe they know what’s best for society — including, presumably, every kid in America. Families know, however, that one-size-fits-all solutions rarely work.

Citizens should urge their legislators to enact measures protecting their autonomy in their children’s upbringing. Fortunately, one state is already taking measures to protect this liberty. In the Missouri House of Representatives, lawmakers recently introduced a bill that would enshrine in law parents’ rights to make decisions about the health, education, and welfare of their children. Although the bill is not specific about what that right includes, it does state that any Missouri policy regarding how children are taught or raised “must be narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling state interest and by the least restrictive means.”

Other states should follow Missouri’s example and consider implementing further protections of every parent’s right to raise their children without government overreach. The legislators in Missouri have exactly the right idea: encourage government restraint whenever possible. As Krieble correctly argues, allowing parents to take responsibility for their children is essential to raising independent adults and responsible citizens.

Terry Schilling

Terry Schilling is executive director of the American Principles Project.

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