What Is Free Range Parenting, And What Are The Benefits?
Updated May 08, 2019
With so many types of parenting styles out there, it can be tough to remember the benefits of each one. One of these types of parenting is called "free range parenting." This is perhaps the least heard of a form of parenting, and it can also be considered one of the most controversial.
What Is Free Range Parenting?
Free range parenting can be considered the opposite of helicopter parenting. While helicopter parenting involves a parent constantly looking over their child's shoulder, monitoring everything they do, free-range parenting gives children the autonomy and independence to dictate how they're going to live their own lives.
If you take the term literally, "free range" is a farming term referring to livestock that is raised under natural conditions. You've probably heard the term before when a company is touting they're healthier, "free range" chicken or turkey. With kids, however, the term means allowing children to grow up free from a parent butting in all the time. Parents who practice free-range parenting support a child's confidence and level of self-sufficiency, encouraging the child to learn as he goes.
The Pros And Cons Of Free Range Parenting
As with every form of parenting, there are arguments both for and against it. What follows is a close examination of the pros and cons of free range parenting.
Advocates of free-range parenting tout the following benefits of the practice:
- Kids get more time outside, without having to wait for Mom or Dad to have the time to supervise them.
- Kids can be more creative when they don't have an adult constantly watching over them. They have the freedom to make their adventures and explore.
- Kids learn how to solve their problems without an adult around to help them. Kids are given a chance to respond to unfair situations themselves, rather than having Mom or Dad rush to defend them and stunt the growth of their problem-solving skills.
- You can finally get that alone time you crave while feeling comfortable in the fact that your kids are off having fun. It will be uncomfortable for you at first, but give your kids check-in times, so you know throughout the day that they're safe and happy.
To every good thing, there is a downside. What follows is a list of the "cons" involved in practicing free-range parenting:
- More time outside means more ways in which they can hurt themselves. And if they do something foolish, like jump off a high tree branch, there are no adults around to know about it or stop them before they do it.
- You have to be sure that your child understands what is safe and what is not before you let them go off and do their own thing. For most kids, this can take several attempts before they finally "get it." You must join them on their adventures for a while before feeling safe enough to give them wings.
- There's always the chance that someone will see your child playing by himself without an adult present, and will call the authorities. Even an unfounded accusation can be a nightmare. You can talk to your neighbors to make sure you're all on the same page about your parenting style.
Free Range Parenting And The Law
In the U.S., many states have laws in place that can affect just how "free range" a parent can allow his or her children to be. For instance, in states like Colorado or Delaware, any reports of a child under the age of 12 years old being left alone will be thoroughly investigated. In North Carolina, the age is younger at eight years old.
Depending on the laws in effect in that particular state, a parent can be charged with neglect for leaving a child alone. Such factors that are taken into consideration include the age of the child and whether the child suffered an injury while left alone.
Some states, however, support the practice. In fact, in 2018 the state of Utah became the first state to make a law that specifically protects parents' right to practice free-range parenting. This means that in Utah, a child can play or walk to a park without parental supervision, and the parents will not be charged with neglect, as free-range parenting is recognized as an official parenting style in that state.
Level Of Risk
The idea of a child being left alone in a public place like a park, or even unsupervised in the privacy of their front yard, is enough to send a shiver through many a parent. You never know what can happen, or who can intervene with your child's freedom and change both of your lives forever. However, many argue that while the news would have us believe otherwise, children are safer today than they were even 20 years ago.
In 2015, the Washington Post published an article that said that a child who was left alone was more likely to be hit by lightning than to be abducted, hit by a car, or be killed while unsupervised. Some experts argue that because we have access to so much news now, it seems like the world is more dangerous than it is.
Tips For Getting Started With Free-Range Parenting
If you have weighed the benefits and the risks involved with free-range parenting, and you decide that it is something you want to try, here are some tips to help get you started.
Know The Law
You may have the best of intentions, and you may be so sure that this is the style of parenting you want to follow. But if the laws in your state say it's illegal to leave your child unattended, then you can't do it without suffering legal ramifications. Read up on the laws in your state before you engage in free-range parenting.
Establish The Rules
Once you are sure that free-range parenting is legal in your state, then you can start laying some ground rules insofar as how you and your child will approach certain situations. For instance, if he's over at a friend's house down the block, and he wants to come home, will he feel comfortable walking home by himself? If he's walking there by himself, does he promise to call you when he gets there?
Remember that what you want him to start doing by himself, he may not yet be mature enough or ready to do. You may want to give him more responsibility, but he may simply not be ready for that kind of responsibility yet, and that's okay.
Educate Your Children
If you want to give your child more independence, then you may have to have some uncomfortable conversations with him. He needs to be aware of the dangers in life so that he can be prepared to avoid them.
For instance, teach him that if a stranger asks him to get in the car to help him search for a lost dog, he needs to not only run away but to run in the opposite direction that the car is facing. By the time the stranger can turn the car around, your child is already on the next block, yelling for help.
It may sound scary, but advice like this may someday save his life.
Remember The "3 Ts"
It can be a tough transition to go from being a helicopter parent to a parent on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. To help ease the transition, remember your "3 Ts":
- Teach Problem-Solving - Teach your child problem-solving skills by giving them something new to learn, like how to make cookies. Let them try and fail the first time, and resist the urge to help. Praise them for their efforts, then give them the time and space necessary to come up with an alternative solution.
- Think Ahead - If allowing your child to take risks scares you, think ahead to the possible outcomes that can result. A certain amount of risk is healthy, and it can help you grow as a person. If your parents took a risk on letting you remember your coat, and you forgot it and were cold, you probably remembered your coat every time after that. Your child can learn from this situation, too.
- Take Time - If you're feeling uncomfortable with the risks you're allowing your child to take, give yourself time to get used to the idea. Ask yourself questions, and be honest with yourself about the answers. Is there a real risk, or are you more worried about the "what ifs"? How will you respond when the day comes that your child wants to do something for himself?
Ultimately, as a parent, you must trust your gut. Not what any expert, blog post, or friend or family member says. You know your child best, and you know what he can or cannot handle. You have to be okay with whatever parenting style you choose (provided it's legal) and feel confident that you know the risks well enough to go forward with it. You are the only one who can make decisions for the both of you, and you are the only ones who must live with those decisions.
Interested in learning more about free range parenting? Consider reaching out to one of our BetterHelp counselors for more information.