Why I’m Afraid to Free-Range Parent

Have you heard of the “free range parenting” movement? Read here for more information, but the short version is that there is a contingent of parents out there that are raising their kids with a LOT of independence, kind of the opposite of “helicopter parenting”. It was started (at least with the official name) in 2008 by Lenore Skenazy, after an article she wrote about letting her then-9-year-old son ride the subway alone – at his request – and skyrocketed to infamy, being labeled by the media as “America’s Worst Mom”.

Honestly, the more I research the topic, the more I want to raise my kids this way. I find myself reading Skenazy’s writing and thinking, “YES, exactly!” as I recognize my own thoughts in hers.

Most recently, I read an article titled “What a horrible mother:” How a call from a “good Samaritan” derailed these mothers’ lives. What I read infuriated me, and as always, the comments were even worse. The article talked about four women whose lives had been turned upside down when a complete stranger called the police on them for leaving their child briefly unattended in a vehicle (no extreme temperature concerns, just supervision).

I’m sorry, but I remember very well playing in the car when I was a kid while my mom or dad ran into a store, or into the pizza place, or where ever else, for a few minutes. When I started first grade, at age 5, I used to walk the ½ mile from my house to school with my brother, who was himself only 7 at the time, unsupervised. It was normal back then and completely acceptable. And that was before every other kid had a cell phone in their pocket.

Now-a-days, if you try to give your children that same level of independence, you risk interrogation by the police, harassment by CDS (see this article), and heaps and heaps of judgment from people who know nothing about your life. You hear people say “times have changed” or “it’s a more dangerous world now”, but I call BS on that theory. Yes, there are a lot more threats to our children in some ways (there were certainly no internet predators when I was growing up) but the everyday general risk to your kid – the “stranger danger” – is NOT worse than when we were growing up. The majority of kidnappings are by people known to the child, not strangers. And most of those are even family members!

So why does it feel so much riskier? Because we hear about EVERYTHING now. When I was a kid, if someone got “snatched” in Kentucky, or California, or Iowa, or wherever else in the country, we didn’t hear about it… at least not like we do now. Now, it seems like almost every missing child’s face is passed all over social media within a day of their disappearance, every news outlet is racing to cover it, because the world has shrunk.

So I applaud the parents who have the guts to stand up for their beliefs and raise their kids with this level of responsibility and independence. Mine aren’t quite old enough for me to start yet, but when they are, if I don’t go “free range”, it won’t be because I am afraid of something happening to them, it will be because I’m afraid of the “good Samaritans” and vigilante know-it-alls who think they can raise my kids better than me. And that makes me very sad.

And where I read the “horrible mother” article, my comment was this – and remains so to all the potential “good Samaritans” out there: I’d say the better solution if someone is that concerned would be to wait for the parent to return, keeping an eye to make sure the kid is ok. If it becomes apparent that the kid is in distress, by all means, do something about it, but if they seem fine, wait for the parent WITHOUT judgment, and let them know that you were just trying to be helpful keeping an eye for them. In other words…

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