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"Free-Range" Children: Parenting Styles and The Rise of Helicopter Parenting

Casey has a Ph.D. in sociology and has 15 years of experience in academia.

Opening up the door to the back yard I cautiously looked outside...

Peering around at my surroundings, I envision perils hiding behind every tree. Danger surely lurks around every corner. I live in a small town where we barely have any crime but that doesn't mean some bad person isn't out there....somewhere...


Deciding to raise "free-range" kids was a hard decision.

I'd heard great things about free-range chickens and the health benefits to letting your chicks roam around the yard instead of being cooped up in a chicken coup. Maybe letting my kids go outside and play in the yard might have some health benefits too.

I was scared out of my mind trying out this new fangled free-range parenting. Where I live, parents don't take risks like letting their kids play outside. We keep 'em inside where they'll be safe and sound from child predators and murderers. We've never had a child predator case in our town but I've read the news. I know they exist and could pop up at any time and attack my child.

Give a kid a tablet and they'll be quiet and out of the way just like kids are suppose to be. My parents loved it when company came over and me and my brothers sat staring at our tablets and smartphones ignoring our guests so mom and dad could have them all to themselves. Parents don't like rowdy kids, especially in a tiny, crowded house. Since my parents thought it was too dangerous to let us go outside they made sure to load us up with all the latest gadgets to keep us subdued and quiet.


All my friends think I'm nuts letting my kids play outside IN THE YARD without me there to supervise them. Most parents were raised by their parents to use the "helicopter approach." This is where parents monitor their kids at all times. This method is used to ensure optimum levels of guidance, security, and safety.

The first day I let my kids free-range out in the yard I had anxiety attacks. I kept watching them out the windows waiting for the moment danger would strike! At the end of the day my kids came in safe and sound. They were sweaty and dirty and they seemed...well...they seemed different. Their skin had a bit of a tan to it and they seemed to glow with happiness.

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Weeks passed and I continued to free-range my kids. I began to notice some interesting changes in my children's behaviors. They seemed more independent. Usually I go ahead and do everything and think of everything for my kids because children can't be trusted to do things correctly. After weeks of free-ranging the kids, they have wanted to do things themselves. Apparently, they enjoy doing things on their own.



The above piece was inspired by a news story I recently read saying that Utah has legalized "free-range parenting."

According to the discussion on Utah's free-range parenting law:

"People have a right to freedom and kids are people. Childhood is a significant fraction of a person’s life and to deprive them of freedom year after year can only be justified if it is absolutely essential for their future well being. There is no evidence that the level of control overprotective parents are exercising over their children is essential for their future well-being, and without such evidence we must defer to giving them more freedom. Society must stop thinking of the rights of children as dispensable, just as it used to for women and minorities." - The Atlantic

In other words, parents should legally be allowed to decide helicopter parenting is not necessarily better for children and parents should be allowed to let their children be free to be kids. At what point did our society shift to think letting children be kids become wrong or illegal?


What Are "Free-Range" Parenting Laws?

Free-range parenting laws basically mean you can legally let your kids play outside independently. Apparently, at some point it became illegal in parts of the US to let your kids roam around without a parent. When I was a kid that's they way we lived. We ran around outside in our yards and around the neighborhood from morning til night. My mom didn't monitor me every moment. I walked home from school in high school, which took me around an hour because I had to walk across town. Life was different back then though.

Today we live in a fearful culture. People are afraid of pedophiles, murderers, and other potential dangers. People are so fearful that they are willing to steal parenting rights our of fear something bad could happen which is in many ways wrong. Anyone read the story of the parents who had their kids taken away by social services for letting their kids walk to school? What about the numerous stories of cops stopping when they see kids playing outside in the yard without adult supervision and threatening the parents by saying they'll call CPS on them for it? For me that is mind boggling. As a parent you should have the right to let your kids walk to school. As a parent you should have the right to let your kids play outside without an adult hovering around every moment.

I really hate the term "free-range parenting" which is what they apparently call the old ways of parenting. Makes me think of raising chickens and livestock. When did society start requiring people by law to act as helicopters over their kids? When did society reach a point where they had to legalize parents being allowed to let their kids play outside or walk to school? It's kind of a sad world we live in when a parent could have child protective services called on them for allowing their kids to play outdoors.

What do you think of "free-range parenting?"

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