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What Is Free-Range Parenting?

Free range parenting encourages parents to allow their children to grow and learn with more independence and less parental supervision.

"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 might be putting it mildly. The press demonized Lenore Skenazy as “America’s Worst Mom.” Skenazy started a global conversation on parenting, how it has 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.

Child looking at camera

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.”

Map of local area
  • 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 have to be six-years-old before they can ride the trains alone. Mother showing daughter how to buy groceries

Free-range parenting is about teaching essential life skills

Free-range parenting, as Skenazy points out on her website, does not mean an uninvolved parent. On the parent’s part, it takes time to practice free-range parenting because you have to teach your kids the skills needed to be independent. Parents must teach their kids to read a map, communicate with others so they can ask for help or directions, how to travel by bus or subway, how to purchase something at a store, and many other necessary life skills.

An 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.

On the flip side, many people object to free-range parenting, saying we don’t live in the same world we used to, and that it puts kids in too much danger. Additionally, many laws around the country, intended to protect children, can punish free-range parents.

Children on subway

Which parenting style is right for you?

There are a number of parenting styles, all with various pros and cons. The most important thing for co-parents specifically is to try to keep parenting styles as consistent as possible between homes. Consistency is beneficial to kids at any stage of growth. 

TalkingParents offers information on several parenting styles, including positive parenting and authoritative parenting. To learn more about free-range parenting, and add your voice to the discussion, learn more at

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