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Keep your focus on making sure that your children are facing tasks and obstacles that include calculated risks.

FILE PHOTO - Dave WenzelIt is actually the federal law: Your kids can walk to or from school alone.

The "Every Student Succeeds Act" was passed in 2016 and includes section 858 that protects the rights of kids to walk with their parent's permission.

Numerous cases have been documented nationwide where police or child protective services intervened on parents/families that chose to allow more freedom to their kids.

Essentially they are situations where parents have chosen to let their kids walk to and from schools or parks, and have ended up getting arrested or fined. Police and CPS are trying to exercise due diligence, but things are confusing.

Opinions are, of course, all over the spectrum: Folks who feel that danger lies behind every corner, and folks who can show reliable statistics that kids today are safer than at any point in our nation's history.

Both sides feel they can adequately defend their case.

Last month Utah passed a bill, which will go into effect on May 8, that allows what is now known as "Free Range Parenting."

It formally legalizes parental decisions that are designed to foster self-sufficiency. Utah is attempting to navigate a path that recognizes such things as neglect or abuse, while still allowing for responsible parents to guide children on a path of development that leads to self-reliance.

I realize that anecdotal stories can be told on either side to support a particular argument. However, perhaps we can all agree that the goals of self-reliance, self-sufficiency and independence are worthy aims of parenting.

Whether you specifically let your children ride their bike to school, or walk to the park is not really the issue. Those aren't the only methods to develop self-reliance.

The over-arching dynamic is a characteristic known as "self-efficacy."

The definition of this term is "the belief in your ability to overcome obstacles." Inherent in the development of self-efficacy is the need of children to face some sort of calculated risk. When we create a perfectly safe world for our children, we lessen their development of self efficacy. In other words — if there is no risk, there is no gain.

Risks can be both perceived and actual. The teenager who decides to take a load of advanced classes in high school is taking a "risk." Their sense of their ability to take that risk is likely based in taking smaller risks along the way. Yes, it can include things like exercising independence/adventure and riding their bike to the store or to school, or walking alone to the park. It can also include many other things — a 15 mile backpacking trip, climbing a rock wall, competing in a sport and a host of other activities.

It is unfortunate that we find ourselves needing to legislate freedom in parenting. However, don't get caught up in the debate about a particular issue (such as whether it's OK for a 10-year-old child to walk a mile to a park). Rather, keep your focus on making sure that your children are facing tasks and obstacles that include calculated risks, in order for them to develop the essential characteristics of success — self-reliance, self-sufficiency and self-efficacy.

Then they can support you in your senior years, rather than the other way around. (smiley face emoticon)

Longtime Sandy resident Dr. Dave Wenzel is a parent, a professor of counseling, and a Licensed Professional Counselor. He works with children, individuals, families and couples. His office, River Ridge Counseling, is located in Sandy. He may be reached at 503-803-0444 or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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