While talking about raising free-range kids, my mind wanders to thinking about free-range chickens and other animals. I suddenly get this funny image of chickens, cows, and children roaming freely across the range, through the pastures, and neighborhoods.
Why does the term free-range connote such reckless abandonment. It is not like we send our children out the door with no plan or preparation. We send them out on their bikes with helmets and directions. We teach them how to safely walk to the bus stop, and how to safely look both ways before crossing the street. Raising free-range kids is a choice parents make, and it takes trust in your child’s capabilities.
Let’s face it; our number one priority as a parent is to keep our kids safe. That responsibility never goes away. It is with us when our children are born, through the teen years, and remains throughout adulthood.
Raising free-range kids, helicopter kids, independent or spoiled kids is our job. Moreover, despite the means that we use to achieve this incredible feat of raising children, we want them to be happy and safe.
Raising Free-Range Kids – Remembering the Past
I remember my childhood as a mecca of nearly unlimited freedom. I was able to ride my bike throughout the small town where I grew up. I would wander for hours through the streets, and play in the park without being monitored by anyone.
My brother and I used to play in the neighborhood until we heard our dad’s shrill whistle. When we heard that whistle, we knew that it was time to come home for dinner.
Moreover, we did not have cell phones back then. We had to find a pay phone or call from a friend’s house when we arrived. It does surprise me that we have more ways to communicate than ever before and yet we are more afraid than ever to let our kids go off to explore the world on their own.
Raising Free-Range Kids or Parenting?
To me, there is a term used to describe the idea of assessing the risks, responsibilities and freedoms that are appropriate for your children. It is called “Parenting.” Is that not what parents do every day with their children?
I understand there is always going to be a struggle between the desire to protect our children against the desire to make them more independent and self-reliant.
I am not a big fan of labels, so using terms such as helicopter parenting or free-range parenting, to me, are just names used to identify narrowly defined types of parenting styles. For more on parenting styles, click here. Most parents are going to use a combination of parenting styles based on the situation and their child’s ability to handle responsibilities.
Raising Free-Range Kids – The Movement
The free-range movement began in 2008 by Lenore Skenazy. Lenore allowed her 9-year-old-son to find his way home via the downtown six train and crosstown bus. Working as a reporter for the New York Sun, she pitched the idea of writing an article highlighting her son’s independence, to her editor.
She wrote an article entitled “Why I Let My 9-Year-Old Son Ride The Subway Alone”, and the response was overwhelming with both approval and condemnation. She now writes for her Free Range Kids blog, and as they say, the rest is history.
Raising Free-Range Kids – How Far Can you Really Go?
In the United States, state laws limit free-range parenting. The laws in your state will determine how old your child must be to walk to school or stay home alone. For example, Delaware and Colorado will investigate reports of any child under the age of 12 being left alone based on child labor laws. North Carolina has fire laws that cite children under eight should not be left home alone.
Illinois requires children be at least 14 years old to stay home alone. Maryland requires children to be at least eight years of age to stay alone, and Oregon sets the age limit at 10.
Raising Free-Range Kids – Is it truly Hands-Off?
Free-range parenting may have gotten a bad rap as the fear-laden zealots jumped on the story and condemned the parent for being irresponsible. The truth is, she gave it great consideration after her son had asked for the opportunity to be independent. She gave him money, a map, and ultimately made the decision that her son had exhibited the amount of responsibility and capability to master such a feat.
No parent sets their child up to fail or intentionally places their child in harm’s way. Raising free-range kids still demands that parents equip their children with the knowledge and tools required for them to be safe. It does not mean that there are no boundaries or rules that need to be followed. Free range does not mean a free-for-all.