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A Case for Childhood Independence - My Testimony to CT Judiciary Committee Re: Senate Bill No. 1133

Thrilled to read this piece as today’s lead story in Hartford Courant with quotes from some fellow team members, Carla Horowitz & Paul Chill. Special thanks to Rep. Tom O’Dea and Rep. Travis Simms for their bipartisan effort!

Our kids need this! Our culture of fear is hurting them—and us parents.

I submitted my testimony to the Connecticut Judiciary Committee in support of Senate Bill No. 1133. Please see the full testimony below:


In support of

Senate Bill No. 1133 - An Act Limiting a Finding of Neglect or Risk of Injury to a Child in Certain Circumstances.

Judiciary Committee – Public Hearing, March 3, 2023

Dear Judiciary Committee Members,

My name is Vanessa Elias and I have lived in Wilton, Connecticut for the last 9 1/2 years with my husband raising our three daughters, now aged 21, 18 and 14. I am a mental health activist, certified parent coach, co-founder of the Wilton Free Play Matters Task Force and a NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Support Group Facilitator for Parents of Children with Mental Health challenges.

I’m writing in support of Senate Bill No. 1133 - An Act Limiting a Finding of Neglect or Risk of Injury to a Child in Certain Circumstances.

I have raised my children in Connecticut, Utah, London, England and Zürich, Switzerland. Swiss children walk to and from school on their own starting in kindergarten. Parents are discouraged from walking with their children (who walk home for lunch and then back again) and you can expect to be scolded for coddling your children if you escort them after the first month. (Even worse is driving your child!) Even when we had the ubiquitous “white van” stories, school authorities were very firm about children continuing to walk and not succumb to fear. Instead they talked about strategies kids could use if that happened to them. It was one of the many lessons I learned about how my parental fear – and responsiveness to it – is shaped by the culture around me.

Having experienced very different cultural parenting environments first hand, I am acutely aware of how parents’ judgment and behavior is impacted and, in turn, how it impacts the emotional and mental well-being, capability and competency of their children.

By restricting our children’s freedom and opportunities for autonomy we are unintentionally robbing them of important opportunities for growth and negatively impacting – stunting- their emotional and mental development. Executive functioning is a concern for increasing numbers of children and teens– our public high school offers a course in executive functioning - and research has shown the brain of today’s 20-year-old is equated to the brain of a 16-year-old brain just twenty years ago. The only way to grow that brain is experience. Free play and independence are a critical part of children being able to develop their executive functioning skills and their brains!

Our town has embraced the Let Grow Project in which children are encouraged to try things that they haven’t done or haven’t been allowed to do before, but feel they are competent to do. I have witnessed in my own family, and amongst friends in town, the joy, increased confidence and assurance this project has given both parents and children. Parents have been able to loosen their tight grip thanks to the “permission” of the Project. It has allowed parents to not fear judgment, or accusation of being neglectful, but instead trust their own instincts and allow their children to step out and up, and broaden their lived experiences.

This bill, of defining what neglect and risk of injury are not, will have a similar positive outcome in that parents will allow their children to be out of their 24/7 supervision and have some much needed independence, agency and joy. Once it's passed, parents will no longer be fearful of possible judgment, accusation or arrest (we call it the “chilling effect”) and will be able to have their children appropriately and incrementally experience and grow, as they know their children best.

Now, if a Connecticut parent looks for guidance on what the “rules are” and they check the CT State Department of Children and Families website, they will find that “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. These are the minimum ages. Not every child is ready then.”

How can these possibly be considered minimum ages when The American Red Cross offers its babysitter course for children 11 years and older?

The rates of depression, anxiety and suicide have skyrocketed all across the US, and sadly younger and younger children are suffering. Our current overprotective, 24/7 monitoring, anxious culture is literally killing our kids, teens and young adults – instead of protecting them. Young adults are struggling with their mental health. Is more childhood independence the answer?

Appropriate childhood independence is critical to developing an internal locus of control, is indeed therapeutic and this bill would allow parents to act on their instincts in knowing what their children are capable of, and allowing their children to flourish in that trust.

Thank you,

Vanessa H. Elias

About the Author

Vanessa Elias is a mental health activist, certified parent coach, speaker, and writer featured on NPR, PBS, and in the WSJ. She is the founder of Thrive with a Guide, LLC and serves as a group facilitator for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Block Party USA is her passion project. Vanessa helps parents achieve healthier family relationships and lasting, meaningful connections.


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