Free-range parenting was launched into the spotlight by Lenore Skenazy, who encouraged her nine year old son to find his way home alone via the subway in New York. Her decision caused a lot of controversy, with many labelling her as a ‘bad mum’ at the time. However, free-range parenting is becoming increasingly popular within the millennial generation.
This style of parenting is centred around fostering independence within children by giving them less adult supervision and more autonomy over their lives. Free-range parents don’t totally throw rules out of the window, but they don’t believe in micromanaging their children or hovering over them either.
Parents who adopt this controversial method do so because they strongly believe in allowing their children to have the freedom to explore, yet also experience the natural consequences of their behaviour. Their main focus is on equipping their children with the skills they need to become successful, independent and responsible adults.
There’s a common misconception that free-range parents are neglectful, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Instead, they are very much child-led, focused on what their children want to do (within reason!)
In the place of multiple after-school clubs, rushing to football practice or participating in forced music lessons, free-range parents encourage unstructured free time. If their child wants to join an after-school activity, then they are completely encouraged to do so. Alternatively, if they don’t want to participate in any clubs or organised events, then this is completely fine too.
Nature is incredibly important to free-range parenting, which is where we come in! Parents practicing this method encourage their children to play outdoors, and limit their time on electronics. One of the goals of free-range parenting is to enable the child to find enjoyment without technology, and this can be gently introduced from an early age.
A simple way to do this is by purchasing wooden and fabric toys for your child instead of the loud, flashy plastic alternatives. Not only are eco-friendly toys better for the environment, but they also encourage your child to engage in undisruptive play. This is excellent for developing their creative imaginations and also means that the toy has a longer life span, as each play session can have a completely different outcome.
This type of play also fosters independence, which is a main goal of free-range parenting. They are simply left to their own devices, coming up with multiple storylines and scenarios, and actively problem solving when unique ‘plot twists’ arise in their games.
Free-range parenting primarily exists as an alternative to ‘helicopter’ parenting. These parents don’t want to be an overbearing force in their children’s lives. They don’t want to map out all of their activities and sign them up to different clubs, to foster entertainment for their children.
This key difference is highlighted in allowing children to explore the world around them independently. While a helicopter parent may constantly hold their arms out underneath their child on the monkey bars, a free-range parent will fondly look on from afar, allowing their child to try new things because they know it’s good for their development, even if they may hurt themselves once in a while.
So, how does free-range parenting benefit children?
Deeper Sense of Self:
Simply, it allows them to explore who they are, and truly discover what they enjoy. Free-range children have a deeper sense of self because they know what they’re passionate about, and are allowed to pursue these passions.
Independence & Confidence:
They are also far more independent that other more ‘sheltered’ children, having been allowed to explore their independence from a young age. Children who are allowed to roam free make their own choices, which helps them feel in control of their own lives. This leads them to becoming confident individuals who know what they want from life, and aren’t afraid to chase their dreams.
Another tangible benefit for children is the increased social skills developed. They have to navigate their own social atmospheres without the so much assistance from Mum & Dad, which encourages them to deal with situations on their own. While some scenarios, such as little squabbles, can be quite daunting, free-range children find their own way through it which leads to better emotional control and a broadened mindset.
Ultimately, the world is a different place than it was when we were small. The communities aren’t as close-knit, and there are far more cars on the roads, but free-range parenting can still be achieved. It’s different for every family and every situation, and you have to take into consideration your surroundings, your child, and your family to see if you can make it work.
Always practice safety, and ensure you discuss with your child basic information such as how to cross a road in a safe way, what to do if they become lost or if they hurt themselves, and other general awareness advice. Free-range parenting is not an all-or-nothing approach; you don’t have to let your little one walk to and from school alone if you’re not comfortable. It’s all about learning your own limitations, whilst learning to appreciate and adapt to those of your child.