If ‘free-range parenting’ does not mean wild-haired children running around naked, covered in mud, eating organic veggies straight from the stem, with a chicken or two clucking about in the background, then what does it mean and why should we care?
Does the term ‘helicopter’ parenting ring any bells? The parenting philosophy that has parents hovering over their child, managing and monitoring every move, scheduling every moment in a socially and educationally positive way? Well, ‘free-range parenting’ is a reaction to this style of parenting and the pressure it places on both parents and child. And it is making waves in the parenting world and trending across social media.
Set them free
Started by a New York mom, Lenore Skenazy, in response to an article she published on how she let her 9-year-old son ride home, alone, on the subway (with a cell phone, maps, plenty of spare change and a lot of faith in her child). The backlash was fierce: what she nuts? Didn’t she care for her child? Didn’t she know how dangerous it is out there? So, Skenazy coined the term ‘free-range parenting’: a parenting style that encourages children to be independent in “proper accordance to their age development”.
Skenazy’s idea is that, “we can give our children the same kind of freedom we had [as kids] without going nuts with worry”. This may sound very 1930s Enid Blyton: children cycling around with sandwiches, a dog, spying on the neighbours, and hanging out in parks but isn't the world so much more dangerous than when we were kids? In fact, it is quite the opposite. It turns out that we are living in about the safest time in history, in fact it is safer (certainly according to stats from the US) for our children now, than it was for us back in the 80s. We just have much more exposure, through the media, to the small number of scary things that can and do happen.
Skenazy is by no means saying that we should just let our children do as they please, or just set them adrift in the wider world unchecked, what she is saying is that we need to let our children live, play, explore and try things out for themselves. And fail too. And when you doing this, “all the good things happen - the self-confidence, happiness, and self-sufficiency that come from letting our kids do some things on their own,” she says.
You don’t need to lock your child out the house and tell them only to come home at sunset to be a free-range parent. It all depends on your child: let them climb to the top of the climbing frame alone, go down the slide without holding their hand, play in the garden alone, choose their own clothes and expect them dress themselves (it also helps if the clothes are easy to put on, too), let them pack their own school bag or lunchbox, walk into school from the parking lot alone, let them go up the escalator while you take the lift, bake that cake, fry that egg, or walk over to your neighbor with that mis-posted letter. As long as it is age-appropriate and you have give them skills first, taught them how to do it and how to find help if they need it. And then give them the freedom to fail or succeed.
And when they can do these things: it makes being a parent so much easier too.
Like everything: parenting is about balance; balancing the amount of supervision we give our children, with the freedom to try new things.