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Free Range Kids- A New Trend in Slow Parenting

Updated on October 28, 2012

It wasn't that long ago that kids were expected to behave like small adults. Psychologists and sociologists started to realize the problems with this theory, and American culture migrated to a more child-centered view. The phrase, "Children should be seen and not heard" was replaced with "Children are the center of the universe."

What started out as a good cause, fell victim to the typical problem of the pendulum swing. Now our society is so hyper-focused on children, many kids these days do not have any idea how to live in the world without their hovering parent a few feet away.

The free range kids movement was born in an effort to bring parenting back to the radical middle.

Helicopter parenting seems to be an "American" problem. Other cultures take risks every day with their children that many of us wouldn't dream of doing.
Helicopter parenting seems to be an "American" problem. Other cultures take risks every day with their children that many of us wouldn't dream of doing. | Source

Defining the 'Free Range Kids' movement

This parenting style believes in fostering independence and self-reliance. Sometimes called "slow parenting," kids are given freedoms and responsibilities according to their age and level of maturity, and are encouraged to explore the world without fear that the "worst case scenario" will happen. Parents are slow to intervene or prevent learning through failure and mistakes.

Here are some typical activities that free range kids are allowed to do at an earlier age than many others:

  • Walking or biking to school or in town
  • Talking to strangers
  • Taking a bus or subway alone
  • Cooking a meal using the stove
  • Stay home alone for brief periods of time
  • Go to the nearby park and play with friends

While most parents would agree that a 16 year old is capable of these activities, free range parents let their 8 and 9 year olds do these things too. Free range parents believe in calculating risk without the infusion of fear.

Rebelling against a fear-based society

Many well meaning parents do not realize how much fear of the "worst case scenario" dictates their actions. When fear becomes the emotion used to assess risk, invariably the parent will choose the "safe" option. The truth is that while the above activities might seem risky, it is actually more likely that a child might be killed in a car accident than an abduction.

Free range parents look at the statistics. Of course, riding a bike means wearing a bike helmet. Kids are taught how to be safe, but they are not denied the experience simply because of a rare possibility that something terrible might happen. If people made all their decisions this way, no one would ever leave the house, get in a car, hike a mountain, or do any activity with a risk.

"But the world isn't the same as it was 50 years ago!"

This is the most common argument against free range kids. The world is getting scarier, darker, and more dangerous by the second. When someone says that, usually it is not because they have done research, but because society is inundated with melo-dramatic media that like to show the worst.

50 years ago, the world was not as plugged in as it is today. Have the statistics really changed all that much?

Other parents don't bother to examine their long held beliefs about children and safety. "Stranger danger" is a perfect example of this. In a country of more than 300 million people, The US Department of Justice reported 115 children missing from a "stereotypical" kidnapping. All the others are from family members, friends, or the cause of runaways. The truth is that children that know how to talk to strangers are in a better position to get help if someone creepy does come along!

The benefits of free range parenting

Children who are given the chance to fail learn more quickly than those who are coddled.
Let's take a look at the child who is allowed to cook dinner, versus the child who is not.

Perhaps the child cooking will burn the food, burn his or her finger, or misjudge ingredient amounts in the pie they are making. What do these failures teach?

  1. The child learns that using a potholder with a good grip is necessary.
  2. Cleaning an oven is no fun. Use a cookie sheet under the pie to prevent your baking mishap from going everywhere.
  3. It is better to turn the stove on low and build heat, than risk burning your hard work.

When a child is given the chance to fail, the learning is permanent. It is more likely they will remember these lessons when they experience the consequences, rather than simply being told. Of course, it is a parent's job to help set up the child to succeed, but helicopter parents are terrified of failure. Unfortunately, failure is one of the best teachers around.

Children are better equipped for the real world.
When a child is taught how to ride the bus, talk to strangers, read a map, or find their way home, they are learning critical life skills that will help them should they get into a difficult situation.

Children are taught to evaluate risk without infusing fear.
"More is caught than taught." A child who grows up with a fearful parent will view the world as more dangerous than it actually is. Modeling confidence and critical thinking skills is far more effective than modeling the idea that danger lurks around every corner.

Children are more confident and independent.
When parents "believe" in their child's ability to learn, there is a much higher likelihood that the child will grow up with confidence in their own abilities. Helicopter parents send a message to their children that, Without Mom and Dad, you might get snatched or hurt. How does a child deal with life in the event that a parent dies? It is more likely that a parent might die than your child getting abducted.

Source

Personal experience with the controversial free range parenting philosophy

*Though this scenario below isn't a traditional free range parenting example (like allowing a child to walk to school or babysit siblings), my personal experience here is simply meant to examine the importance of evaluating how fear plays a role in one's ability to think critically.

I was a busy mom of three. My oldest son Evan was four years old and in preschool, my daughter was two, and my youngest was 8 months. Life was hectic and busy.

One morning, my daughter Eden took an unusually early nap. She'd been up a lot the night before because of teething, and so I put her down about 15 minutes before it was time to take Evan to school. Eden's napping was regular, and I knew she would sleep for a solid hour to hour and a half.

I briefly contemplated keeping Evan home from preschool because I did not want to wake her up after 15 minutes, but then I started to think critically about my situation.

  • Eden was in her crib just beginning her nap.
  • Evan's school was approximately 1/4 of a mile down the street. To drop him off and come home would take 5 minutes by car.
  • Waking her up to take her to school would be more detrimental to her health than letting her sleep.
  • There would be a higher likelihood that she could die in a car crash than if I left her to sleep while I ran to the school.

I chose to leave her at home that day. I locked the house, made sure there was nothing running (like the dryer), called Andrew and told him my plan, and dropped Evan off. I was back in 5 minutes. When I recounted the story to the Moms at my playgroup, I was attacked viciously for my decision!

"What if your house burned down?"
"What if she was kidnapped?"
"What if she woke up crying?"
"What if her blanket choked her?"
"What if you got in a car accident and she was left home for the whole day?"

I had a solution to every argument.

"What if your house burned down?" The chances of this happening are very very small. What about if I was outside walking to the mailbox for ten minutes, taking a nap, or a shower? The risk of the house burning down in five minutes is far smaller than walking her down the sidewalk or putting her in a vehicle or feeding her some new food in her highchair. Should I avoid all those activities too?
"What if she was kidnapped?" First of all, no one except Andrew knew she was there?! And in the event that some stalker was intent on taking my baby, chances are they would do it at night when we all were sleeping, not at 8:30am in the morning.
"What if she woke up crying?" Then she would cry for five minutes. I can guarantee you she would cry for the entire car ride there and back had I woken her up!
"What if her blanket choked her?" She had no blanket.
"What if you got in a car accident and she was left home for the whole day?" This is why I told Andrew. In the unlikely event that I was in a car accident, the police would notify Andrew and he would know that she was safely in her crib at home UNHARMED.

Do you see how fear causes people to not think rationally?

What do you think of free range kids?

See results

Evaluate your parenting

Perhaps the idea of free range parenting seems reckless and scary to you. You do not have to become the poster child for the free range parent. However, it is important to look critically at your decision making process to see if you are allowing fear to drive your decisions.

We all want to protect our children from danger. No one expects a parent to recklessly endanger their child. However, in an effort to protect kids from the tiny risks, we inevitably take a bigger risk: Not allowing our children to learn crucial life skills that will help them to be safe and independent in the future.

Source

About the author

Julie DeNeen is a freelance writer and mom of three. She is a self-proclaimed free range parent, having evaluated that psychologically, it is far better to give her children the chance to fail, than to keep them sheltered from harm.

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    • Alexis Cogwell profile image

      Ashley Cogdill 2 years ago from Indiana/Chicagoland

      Love this Hub! I'm new to the term of "Free-Range", but I'm starting to realize that I may fall into this category. Where I believe that children need boundaries, I know they can be set while keeping their independence intact. Sounds like you are raising great kids! Keep writing the "touchy" issues. :)

    • Just Ask Susan profile image

      Susan Zutautas 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I was raised as a free range kid and I suppose I raised my kids free range although this is the first time I've heard of this trend. I walked my boys to school up until I knew they would be perfectly fine all by themselves. I live in a fairly safe neighborhood so that has to be taken into account. Each child is different and some are ready to cook at 8 years old using a stove and others are not ready until they are 17.

      I was allowed to ride the bus and subway in Montreal alone when I was eight or nine years old and so were all the kids I knew. If I had a daughter and we lived in a big city I would probably hesitate to allow her to do as I did. I'm all over the map on this and your hub has really got me thinking.

      Great hub!

    • Ruchira profile image

      Ruchira 4 years ago from United States

      Great insights, Julie.

      I was brought up in a free range parenting way but, when I came to the States, I became aware of Conscious parenting and thought that this will help bring up a generation taht will be cautious and aware of themselves but, unfortunately I see that children are becoming dependent on their kids more than I could think of...

      I feel that there are plus points of conscious parenting but with a boundary line...anything in excess can be bad!

      good pointers, Julie

      voted up as useful and interesting.

    • Trinity M profile image

      Trinity M 4 years ago

      Very tricky and emotional subject. I can’t say I’m 100% free range but I do agree with the concept. Very interesting hub, sure makes for a heated discussion amongst parents.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 4 years ago from England

      Hi Julie, I totally agree with you, we seem to have got stuck in the molly coddle age, children over here were even told to wear goggles while playing conkers! in fact this is very apt today as in the news it said that we are now going to encourage kids to climb trees again after the local council said no kids should never do it! thanks goodness sense won out!

    • BizVT34 profile image

      BizVT34 4 years ago from USA

      Good stuff Julie. I have long felt that the protectionism of children actually leads to teenagers taking bigger risks. The hard truth is, children need to learn small lessons and respect errors before they're able to take the huge risks that can do permanent damage.

    • tammyswallow profile image

      Tammy 4 years ago from North Carolina

      This is a really great platform to debate this issue. There seems to be a battle line drawn between the free range parents and the hovering parents. I am right in between. I am a firm believer that children should be raised with the ability to think for themselves and learn some skills in being resourceful. I was a little looser with my older children. They were three boys a year apart and they always looked out for each other. I would send them to walk to the store together at the age of 10 (half a mile at most). Now that I have a young daughter who is basically an only child, I fear for her safety more than I would the boys. While I want her to be resourceful, I wouldn't allow her to do as much by herself. If you check your area's free sex offender registry it will scare most parents to see just how many are in one area. I think a healthy balance is good and it should depend on the child's abilities. Very vital subject and a great hub!

    • Peanutritious profile image

      Tara Carbery 4 years ago from Cheshire, UK

      I applaud you for writing this. I just got back from a camping trip this weekend with children present. Some of the behaviour I witnessed beggared belief. An 11 year old girl demanded her Mum towel dried her feet after she'd been paddling! Why she couldn't do it, I have no idea. When her Mum jumped up and started drying her feet, I had my answer. This girl is starting secondary school tomorrow. I dread to think how she'll cope!

    • ahorseback profile image

      ahorseback 4 years ago

      I pushed all the buttons but funny , That's what I was in the sixties and early seventies , WHAT a term ! Free range child . Today though ? I think most kids are too connected to earphones to free range it !......++++

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I got sidetracked so it took me a little while to get to this one and bless you for writing it. I have grown so tired of the over-protective parent who is always hovering in the background, monitoring their child's every action.....you have summed this all beautifully and I completely agree with the free-range concept....or, the concept that I grew up with, which is one and the same.

    • CZCZCZ profile image

      CZCZCZ 4 years ago from Oregon

      I just find this kind of funny, so many parents I guess are so strict with their children that now having a little freedom to learn from stupid decisions now means kids are being raised with a free range lifestyle that is outside the norm. When looking through the list of things from walking to school, taking the bus, making food, etc. this is how me and my brothers were raised and I feel all for the better. It's good to see enough parents are starting to buck the current trend of over protection and spoon feeding there kids with everything that they don't ever make a decision on there own. Good going to the parents that allow their kids to be free range.

    • profile image

      kelleyward 4 years ago

      Hi Julie, I like this one. I'm kind of a free range parent. I allow my oldest to watch his siblings for 20 minutes, while I cook or clean. I'm not to the point where I'd let him walk to school and I don't think I'll ever be, but thank you for putting a name on this trend. Voted up and useful! Kelley

    • RealHousewife profile image

      Kelly Umphenour 4 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      Hey Julie- I guess I am a free range parent. I do agree also that we must stop coddling our kids! I think we had a whole generation of that little experiment and it didn't go so well did it? Crime among kids is higher than ever!

      I think we need to teach our youngsters they can depend and rely on themselves! They need to learn to use their own thinkers and critically. I know my 11 and 12 year old feel great that they are independent. If I disappeared tomorrow because an alien ship captured me - I guarantee you my kids can take care of themselves:)

      I drop my kids at the mall for a few hours, they go to the movies alone and walk to their friends houses and stuff like that. Failures is just as important as success sometimes too!

      Thanks - awesome hub girl!

    • gmwilliams profile image

      Grace Marguerite Williams 4 years ago from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York

      Excellent hub, voted up! Free range parenting does result in more resilient and independent children. However, many parents of the old, overprotective school portend that free range parenting is akin to laissez faire parenting which it is not. Free range parenting is a parent teaching their children in steps how to be gradually independent by doing and mastering levels of tasks. I have written a similar hub. Voted up for extremely useful and interesting!

    • Natashalh profile image

      Natasha 4 years ago from Hawaii

      Granted it was about 20 years ago, but I used to walk myself to and from school in 1st and 2nd grade. I firmly believe kid are not responsible until they have to be.

    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 4 years ago from New York, New York

      Julie, very interesting idea on parenting and see where you were coming from with your daughter's nap. I have been there with minus one child at 2 small kids. I am not sure how I feel about this though, but do get your point and honestly don't see why you were being attacked by these women. Personally how we parent our own children is our choice and nobody's business, but that is just me. Have of course voted and shared too!!

    • Mom Kat profile image

      Mom Kat 4 years ago from USA

      Very well written Hub.

      I must admit that I am closer to a "slow parent" myself. I have 6 children and am cautious of allowing my children to do things that may put them in harms way. I will never allow my children to bike or walk to school. They can drive when they get cars. The traffic in the area of the schools is so hideous and poorly designed that I wouldn't feel comfortable walking or biking during those times in that area.

      I will let them walk 5 houses down to Nana's ~ while I watch from the driveway.

      Believe me, with 6 kids it's a busy job keeping tabs on all of them and keeping them safe. I take my job as a mother very seriously & wouldn't be able to forgive myself if one of them ended up tragically disfigured, hurt, killed, kidnapped, or molested because I failed to protect them.

      It isn't wrong to love your kids & want them to be safe. Reasonable freedom (at a young age) is one thing ~ too much, is just too risky

    • rcrumple profile image

      Rich 4 years ago from Kentucky

      Julie -

      You are tackling tender ground on this one! : )

      Only you know the area of responsibility your children are able to handle. There are some that can easily handle the additional responsibility, and others that cannot. I've never looked at age as much as the ability of a child to "handle the load." I do disagree with your statement about the world not having changed. Where, at one time, people would look at any child as their own in protecting them should the need arise, many now will look the other direction for fear of 1) getting involved in a family situation when the parents are unknown and 2) fear of legal liabilities. Where many on Hubpages seem to be very responsible, there are many that turn the other way after filming the event on their cell phones. I've never been one to smother my kids, but, again, we have to gauge the responsibilities to the child at hand. Thought provoking hub! Good Job! Up & Interesting