Here’s the easiest way to think of it: free-range parenting is the opposite helicopter parenting. Free range parents believe that children should be able explore the world freely, without parents constantly hovering and worrying. Not too long ago — in the 1970s and 1980s — almost all parents were “free range” parents. It wasn’t uncommon for kids in that era to be left alone to play in the neighborhood or with friends after school and on weekends, with the only condition being to be home by dinner.
Over the past 20 years, however, parenting culture in the United States changed dramatically. Today’s children are typically under constant supervision, and their after-school and weekend time is heavily scheduled with structured activities. The result can be a near-total lack of independent agency, according to free-range parenting advocates, who are pushing back against over-involved parents.
It’s important to understand, however, what free range parenting is … and is not. It’s not a completely hands-off approach where children are free to come and go as they please and do whatever they’d like. Instead, it’s a method where parents intentionally and strategically give children freedom and responsibility they have been equipped to handle. Boundaries are important. Teaching is paramount. And communication is necessary. Balancing these elements gives both parents and children peace of mind when allowing this level of freedom.
Allowing children to more independently explore the world or community they live in has some benefits. Enabling them to learn from experiences promotes self-reliance, grows confidence, encourages responsibility, and boosts self-esteem. When children are given opportunities to demonstrate responsibility, they mature more quickly and feel more accomplished in return.
This parenting approach is not for every parent or for every child. It is important to know both yours and your child’s limitations. If you know your child is not mature or savvy enough to go out on his or her own, then hold off. It is important to have open communication with your children to determine if they know the rules and can follow them. They need to know what to do if a problem arises. Equip them with the resources to contact you in the event of an emergency. Make sure the activities are appropriate for their ages and levels of maturity.
Whether you choose to free-range parent or not, balance is the key. One day our children will be completely independent. Our goal as parents is to make them successful in doing so. To accomplish this, we are continually balancing the amount of supervision we give them and providing the opportunity to try new things.
Reviewed by Dr. Kristie Rivers, September 2020
- Free-range parents believe in giving their children space and time to be independent.
- Benefits include increased responsibility and confidence.
- Boundaries are important in free-range parenting.
- It’s not for every family or every child.