I’m a Free Range Chicken.
Free Range Parenting is the latest methodology on how to grow successful and happy kids.
It centers around allowing your children “age appropriate” independence to learn about the world they live in, but without the obvious safety net of an over-bearing and controlling parent. Think 1950’s. Kids went everywhere by themselves, stepping out the door after breakfast only to return for dinner, hours later. It was considered perfectly normal (and safe) for children to be out in the community without adult supervision. That was Free Range Parenting before it had a name.
By the 1990’s, things changed had completely changed. Remember the Helicopter Mom era? Parents began scheduling every minute of their kid’s day, filling up free time with pre-planned play dates and chaperoned outings, literally “hovering” over their kids to make sure they were safe, engaged, and involved in appropriate activities with appropriate people. Those door to door cookie sales and school fundraisers were kaboshed due to Stranger Danger which meant parents either bought 48 boxes of cookies or begged family and friends to do the same. A child wandering anywhere alone would certainly be cause for concern.
It really was a safety issue. The news was filled with stories of child abductions or worse. Neighborhood Watches were created, teaching Stranger Danger was a priority, and communities were acutely aware of any non-descript white vans without windows patrolling the streets, all in an attempt to avoid more heinous headlines. Spending every waking moment with your children in view was the knee-jerk reaction. The big problem with this type of parenting was the fall out. Those kids never really learned how to successfully manage things for themselves. They looked to others (often Mom and Dad) to accomplish things for them. We sent them in to the real world ill-prepared and ready for failure…to start careers or go to college. Guess where a lot of these kids ended up? Back at home with Mom and Dad, getting their laundry done and the oil changed in their car for free (yes, the car Mom and Dad pay for). The end result grown up kiddo wasn’t prepared for life in the real world.
Now there seems to be a backlash.
Parents and experts alike are questioning all those good-intentioned “helicopter” parents and are reconsidering a Free Range Parenting approach. Evidently, more parents are practicing Free Range Parenting techniques. And, why not? Crime rates have dropped significantly over the last decade.
Last week there was a story on the front page of our local newspaper that caught my attention. It featured a Free Range Parenting Mom (SunJournal, February 7, 2015) in my community. It explained how this Mom allows her young daughter to interact in every day situations by herself and how she believes it is important for her daughter to learn from real world situations. There are lots of ways to to keep kids safe and to give them the age appropriate freedom that will teach them important life skills. Cell phones and GPS have made constant contact almost possible. It seems reasonable that our kids might not magically manage the world and everything in it at 12:01am on their 18th birthday…without some practice first? But am I ready to let my 5 year old walk to school on her own?
According to that same local paper, 8 children were murdered in the State of Maine in 2014. Awfully, all at the hands of someone close to them- a parent, grandparent, caregiver, or other adult living in the same house. No one that falls into the Stranger Danger category.
So, why am I afraid to embrace Free Range Parenting methods?
Here’s the thing:
Eight may be a small number, but for those families, their world has tragically ended. I don’t know that I would survive something like that happening to our family.
While I will continue to encourage and support my children to try explore the world around them…I will be close by. I won’t be sending my child on the city bus at 10 years old to go to the mall. She’ll have to enjoy retail therapy with her Mom. I won’t be letting my 8 year old walk a mile or two to the local swimming hole by herself. I’ll come for a dip too. And, my 5 year old will have to catch a ride to school with me in the mornings. I’m a Free Range Chicken. All because I could never survive being one of those 8.
A quick disclaimer: I don’t profess to be right or wrong in this parenting dilemma. I’m just talking out loud.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the pros and cons of Free Range Parenting.