“Free-range parenting” is a new parenting term, and it’s quickly rising in popularity. What does it mean?
Free-Range Parenting Definition
Free-range parenting is the concept of raising children to function independently, with limited parental supervision; however, that parental supervision should be appropriate to the child’s age. With this kind of hands-off parenting comes an acceptance of risks for both parent and child — a kid may fall and get hurt, unsupervised. But the spirit of free-range parenting includes giving kids the space to handle small setbacks, missteps, and injuries themselves, increasing their confidence and strength.
The term was first used by Lenore Skenazy, a New York Sun columnist who famously let her 9-year-old son find his way home on the New York City subway system alone. That may be a little extreme for most parents, but Skenazy’s intentions were in the right place — her son was eager for independence, and though she was worried about him, it built trust between them. Skenazy reminds parents, “A child who thinks he can’t do anything on his own eventually can’t.”
Skenazy founded her website, Free Range Kids, “to separate the real dangers from the ones foisted upon us by the media.” She wants to help parents raise “safe, self-reliant children — without going nuts with worry.” She adds, “Children deserve some unsupervised time,” reminding parents that though safety is incredibly important, kids are safer and more self-reliant than most people think.
This doesn’t mean letting your child roam completely free — they should be supervised for safety according to their stage of development. “Free range parents” won’t leave an infant or toddler alone. But with the recent increase in “helicopter parenting,” a more free-range style is an antidote to parental smothering. This method can improve a parent-child relationship, especially with teenagers pushing for independence.
Five-year-olds are surprisingly self-sufficient — they can get ready for school themselves, remember the way home to walk with friends, and be aware of their surroundings. Middle schoolers are learning who they are and navigating a new social sphere — but overbearing parents can get in the way of that important growth. If a teenager can hold a job, get a driver’s license, and maintain good grades, it may not be necessary for their parents to know where they are every second of the day.
That’s where the core of free-range parenting is: most of the time, parents supervise their kids for their own peace of mind, not because their child needs it. It’s about learning to let go, and trust your child. They might surprise you.