The term “free range parenting” may not be something you are familiar with, but for simplicities sake, lets just say it is the opposite of helicopter parenting.
Helicopter parenting is also known as “wrapping your kids up in cotton wool”. The parent is always there, always watching like a hawk with “no” being used on a frequent basis. There is impending danger everywhere, the dirt on their fingers may be poisonous or the swing might fly too high.
Free range parenting on the other hand, is giving your children freedom and independence with little parental supervision. Just like a chook in a cage who is safe but will never be free, versus a chook in the field who is happy but could get eaten by a fox. (How could I not add a chicken reference when discussing a term such as “free range”?)
Back on topic. Free range parenting is not a completely new concept, I can remember being dropped off at the shops and told to walk home with my two younger brothers. Back in the day it was not uncommon for parents to send their young kids alone on the bus for a day at the beach.
Times have changed. Now taking your eyes off your children in a McDonalds playground seems like a big risk. Today the term free range parenting is not (usually) as extreme as asking a 10 year old to drive down to the servo to pick up some milk for your midnight Kahlua. While people interpret this concept differently, it should be about assessing where your children are at and helping them to reach the next step independently.
The extreme end of free range parenting would be leaving a two year old home alone to fend for himself and that isn’t something we would ever want to promote.
But, for example, could you start by saying goodbye to your child at the school gate rather than walking them inside? Or drop them off at their next birthday party? Could you teach them age appropriate chores, such as making their own breakfast or give them a chance to dress themselves (even if it means their outfit is awkwardly mismatched).
Your parenting style is going to depend on the kind of child you have been blessed with. Maybe you have the little adventurer who does a runner every time you move your head to the left. Or, what I’m more familiar with – the clingy child who actually needs a little push for independence. For a child who has no fear, giving them boundaries and choices may work better than sending them out into the wild west. The child who won’t leave your side could use a gentle nudge to join in at the party and play with their friends.
Admittedly, when I think about free range parenting, even the idea of allowing my children to cross the road on their own is something that makes me nervous. I wouldn’t let them walk to the park down the street on their own and I would certainly not allow my eight year old catch the bus without an adult. But, I do want my children to be independent individuals. They grow and change so quickly that it is hard to predict when they will be ready for such things. It is tough being a mother!
Teaching children the world is a scary place that is out to harm them could lead to unnecessary anxiety, and instead the answer should be educating them about risk and processes to deal with any roadblocks that may arise. It is important to consider that if we keep our children locked up in their rooms we may be putting them at even greater risk to predators. The internet has quickly become a place to hide with catfishing, online bullying and grooming. All of which we should be be prepared for in this digital age.
At the end of the day, you know your child. And we all have different parenting styles. Free range parenting is something you are probably already doing to an extent, every child is different and as parents we just try do what works for our own family.
Are you are free range parent? How much independence do you give your children? We would love to know your thoughts in the comments section below.