What Is Free-Range Parenting?
Free-range parenting is a term coined by an ordinary mom who became an overnight media sensation in 2008 after she let her nine-year-old son ride the subway home by himself in New York City. Media sensation is putting it mildly: The press demonized Lenore Skenazy as "America’s Worst Mom," and she started a global conversation on parenting, how it's changed over the decades, and if that change is good or not.
"America's Worst Mom"
Free-range parenting is a term coined by an ordinary mom who became an overnight media sensation in 2008 after she let her nine-year-old son ride the subway home by himself in New York City.
Media sensation is putting it mildly: The press demonized Lenore Skenazy as “America’s Worst Mom,” and she started a global conversation on parenting, how it’s changed over the decades, and if that change is good or not.
Skenazy’s definition of free-range parenting is an approach to parenting in which we fight the belief that our children are in constant danger and allow them to grow and learn with more independence and less parental supervision.
Many people liken it back to the “good ole’ days,” when kids walked to and from school, when kids spent their days outside playing and didn’t come back until supper, and when kids could safely hitch a ride to a fishing pond miles away.
Free-Range Parenting Around the World
It’s not just a U.S. phenomenon, but one in the UK as well. In 2007, the Daily Mail published a story that helped fuel the debate on free-range parenting entitled “How children lost the right to roam in four generations.”
- In 1919, Great-Grandfather George, age 8, could walk six miles from home unaccompanied.
- In 1950, Grandpa Jack, age 8, could walk one mile from home unaccompanied.
- In 1979, Mom Vicky, age 8, could walk a half a mile from home unaccompanied.
- In 2007, Son Ed, age 8, can only walk 300 yards (to the end of his street) unaccompanied.
This suppression of childhood independence isn’t the norm in all countries, though, as parents shared with the New York Times. In other countries, such as Germany, France, and the Netherlands, many parents practice free-range parenting, and it is culturally accepted. In Japan, kids only must be six-years-old before they can ride the trains alone. Only six!
Parenting Is About Teaching Essential Life Skills
Free-range parenting, as Skenazy points out on her web site, does not mean an uninvolved parent. It takes time on the parent’s part to practice free-range parenting because it means taking time to teach kids the skills they need to be independent. Parents must teach kids to read a map, teach them how to talk to strangers so they can ask for help or directions, teach them how to travel by bus or subway, teach them how to purchase something at a store, and many other necessary life skills.
A 2015 article in Australia’s The Daily Telegraph lamented the loss of basic life skills among the millennial generation, including cooking, washing clothes, changing bed sheets, and even knowing what a fuse box looks like. “As parents, we have to accept some of the responsibility,” said the author.
The loss of basic life skills is part of what free-range parents say they are trying to prevent, along with loss of independence and confidence brought about by 1) fear, or 2) unwillingness to allow our kids to fail.
Are Kids Now In Harm's Way?
Many people object to free-range parenting, believing it puts our kids in too much danger. It isn’t the same world it used to be. And many of the laws around the country, intended to protect children, can punish free-range parents.
For instance, in Alabama, it’s against the law to leave a child under the age of seven alone in a car. In Colorado, the age of 12 is the guideline for when it might be appropriate to leave a child home alone. In Maryland, authorities can charge a parent with child neglect for failure to provide necessary assistance and resources to a minor.
What constitutes a failure to provide for a child can be broadly interpreted. Case-in-point, Maryland parents Danielle and Alexander Meitiv were charged with neglect when their two children, ages 10 and 6, walked home alone from a local park. Authorities eventually dropped the charges, but cases like these continue to fuel the debate on free-range parenting.
What Parenting Style Is Right For You?
To learn more about free-range parenting, and add your voice to the discussion, learn more at https://letgrow.org/.