For Back-to-School season, we’re taking a look at different parenting styles and philosophies. Last time we examined Helicopter Parenting. This time, we’re taking on the Free-Range Kids.
Remember the good old days, when children played outside – unsupervised – and that was okay as long as they showed up for dinner or when the streetlights came on? People love to reminisce about those happier, simpler times, but many of us who remember having those experiences ourselves are reluctant to allow our own children that same level of freedom.
The term Free-Range Kids comes from the blog started by the New York woman dubbed “America’s Worst Mom” for allowing her nine-year-old son to ride the subway unaccompanied. Lenore Skenazy takes the position that allowing kids the opportunity to exert their independence once in awhile is good for everyone, particularly the kids. She uses the term to communicate the idea that our kids are not in constant danger, and that efforts to protect them from every possible threat, no matter how unlikely, are actually harming them – or at least cheating them out of a fully lived childhood.
“I think kids deserve to be outside. I think they can play in the park with each other without us hovering. I think they can walk to school… I think that we are over-estimating danger and underestimating our kids almost all the time. Fear is keeping our kids inside… helpless, indoors, bored, fat, diabetic, depressed,” she said in a recent interview on The Daily Show. (Skenazy, 2015)
In fact, according to the FBI, crimes of all types have declined steadily over the past 20 years. (FBI, n.d.) Newsweek reported that, according to the Justice Department, the odds of a child being abducted by a stranger are one in a million (Newsweek Staff, 2008). So why are parents today so protective?
Maybe we are because our lifestyles have changed. We’ve gotten so used to shuttling our kids to organized activities that we forgot what it felt like to have big blocks of down time, to be bored and have to entertain ourselves purely with imagination. Maybe we are because we don’t know our neighbors and, despite the reality, the news reminds us that the world is a scary place where not even a school or a movie theater is guaranteed to be safe.
The idea of free-range parenting is not to raise your kids with no boundaries or to send them out into the world with no skills or guidance. The idea is to give your kids room to experience life on their own, so they learn to make decisions and figure things out for themselves, and gain confidence in their own abilities. Yes, they will make mistakes and things won’t always go smoothly, but that is all part of growing up.
Elizabeth Foy Larsen wrote about her own thought process navigating the free-range waters. Like many parents, she found a balance that works her family and offers tips for others who are unsure about diving in. Here are a few:
- Know Your Kid – If she follows through on tasks, owns up to mistakes and tends to look before she leaps, you’re probably safe saying yes when she asks to ride her bike to the park, have her curfew extended or go to the mall with a friend.
- Practice – Go with your son to the bus stop until he gets the hang of it and tells you he feels comfortable doing it on his own.
- Power Down – If your kids call constantly for your advice, try turning off your cell phone for at least part of the day, to allow them the chance to make independent decisions.