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What do you think about free range parenting?

I'd never heard of it, but after Feralxat mentioned it in the "What's the opposite of attachment parenting?" question last night, I was curious and looked it up. The approach makes a lot of sense to me, although there's a fine line between allowing independence and taking what I would consider unnecesary risks. Still, the approach of letting kids learn from their mistakes when possible, entertain themselves at times instead of keeping them in activities and classes every hour of the day, seems wise. What do you all think? I'm truly curious, not meaning to stir up trouble--differen approaches work for different moms.

'free range' parents push independence for kids
Bree Ervin was sitting in the shade at a park when her then-7-month-old daughter climbed a small slide and prepared to go down head-first.

Another mom approached to warn her and was shocked when Ervin didn't rush over to stop her daughter. Instead, Ervin let her go -- and then comforted the girl when she realized that sliding face-first hurts. The other mom castigated her, calling her "one of those free-range parents."

Ervin, who now lives in Longmont with her husband and daughters, 6-year-old Alex and 8-year-old Cody, googled that moniker when she got home and discovered a label that perfectly described her parenting style.

"Whether it is Internet predators, kidnappers, pedophiles, sharp objects, skinned knees or any of the other potential dangers that we are taught to fear, free rangers believe the best response is to prepare our children to cope with whatever life throws at them -- and to give them the wits, practice and tools to do so," she said.

The term "free-range parenting" was coined by Lenore Skenazy, who drew national attention after she let her 9-year-old son ride the New York subway by himself and then wrote a column about it for the New York Sun. She wrote a book, has a website devoted to free-range parenting and regularly proposes events like "take your kids to the park and leave them there" day.

Critics have dubbed it lazy parenting and say parents are taking unnecessary risks with their children's safety.

But supporters say they don't want to let fear rule their children's lives. It's been called the antidote to "helicopter" parents, who hover over their children, ready to swoop in and solve all their problems -- even in college.

"A free-range parent tends to believe that all children, not just their own, are safer and smarter than pop culture leads us to believe," Skenazy said. "We don't think that our kids need a security detail every time they leave their house. We don't think we have to buy a million educational videos, classes and toys to personally knit every synapse in their brain."

Skenazy said media organizations "obsessed" with news of worst case scenarios, especially missing children, have created a culture of fear. When a parent is trying to decide if a child would be OK waiting alone at a bus stop, she said, an image of a child taken from a bus stop is what pops up -- not an image of the millions of children who wait safely every day.

"We see things through the lens of dire risk," she said. "Pretty soon, you're scared to let your kid go to the park or ride a bike."

scared to let your kid go to the park or ride a bike."


Johanna Burian and David James have been staunch supporters of the parenting style since their 18-month-old twin girls were born.

Burian recounted a story about a college roommate who had never done a load of laundry and said she doesn't want that lack of self-sufficiency for her daughters.

"It's a great big world out there," she said. "They need to know how to handle it. You're not sending them out in the world at 18 not knowing how to do anything."

With toddlers, they said, being free-range means not buying knee pads as they were learning to walk and not covering sharp table corners with protective pads.

"We have things they can bump their heads on," James said. "They learn from it and don't bump into things nearly as much as they used to. They can go down the bigger slide. So the girls have a skinned knee every so often. It's really not a big problem. The biggest thing is to make sure they have room to try things that are a little bit of a stretch for them."

There's a lot more to the article at


Asked by Ballad at 10:57 PM on May. 12, 2013 in General Parenting

Level 45 (193,996 Credits)
This question is closed.
Answers (10)
  • I think the "what" or particulars of so-called free-range parenting depend a lot on context. It is not about taking a vacation to NY city & expecting your elementary-age child to navigate the subway system. "Child alone on public transportation" depends a lot on context & what the child already is familiar with & has mastered.
    I think it is more an attitude or way of responding than any specific description. It's about assessing danger & allowing experience. Also, taking your cues from the child's reactions.
    I know last summer my twin sons were in ankle-deep water at the lake, and I was sitting up on the grass (not right on the beach) watching them closely. One started experimenting more, wading in a little deeper on his legs. When he stumbled, his face went in & under. He stood right up, looked to find me on the shore, and I was looking at him. I watched him soberly & attentively, paying close attention, nodding to him.

    Answer by girlwithC at 8:23 AM on May. 13, 2013

  • I was a free range parent but I didn't realize their was a name for my parenting style, lol
    We raised our boys with manners, morals and talked about the dangers in the world. Would I allow them to ride a city bus alone, no. So I wasn't an extremist in any way.
    We always made sure we were there for them when mistakes were made but we felt that's how they learned.
    Hovering over my children wasn't even in my thoughts. But...that being said, that was 26 years ago!
    I think if I were raising young children now, I'd be more of a helicopter parent! It's a scary world out there!

    Answer by PMSMom10 at 11:21 PM on May. 12, 2013

  • I'm going to have to second PMS there.... ^^^^

    Answer by m-avi at 11:40 PM on May. 12, 2013

  • I think like with all things, moderation is key. I let my boys explore, and didn't intervene very often but I would never put a 9 year old alone on a subway! That's stupid! But my boys were hang gliding before they could drive so I didn't exactly coddle them either

    Answer by Nimue930 at 11:55 PM on May. 12, 2013

  • I labeled myself a neglectful parent before i learned the PC term
    It was in comparison . To the helicopter mom
    My kids although raised the same are still needy/ independent and WTF!
    Back the fuck off and let them be kids. No matter what youre gonna fuck up

    Answer by Anonymous at 11:59 PM on May. 12, 2013

  • There's a HUGE difference between being a helicopter parent or never teaching your kid to do laundry and letting your 9 year old ride the subway along, or letting your 7 month old fall on her head. Kid's need to be TAUGHT about dangers not left to experience it first hand. More minor things, sure, but the larger dangers no. If something were to happen what would the parents say then? "That's just life"?

    Answer by maecntpntz219 at 1:11 AM on May. 13, 2013

  • When I was a kid, most parents were what would now be called "free-range." And I wouldn't call it the "opposite" of attachment parenting; they're focused on different things.

    Answer by SWasson at 7:49 AM on May. 13, 2013

  • I do not find it the opposite of attachment since most of my AP friends are both FR and AP. it goes hand in hand. It is about philosophy. AP is all about trusting you know your child and their needs. With FR you trust in your child's abilities age appropriately. For example: you can co sleep and let your four year play by himself in the backyard discovering he can climb higher than the house. The two philosophies compliment each other. Another example: you can allow your child to walk alone the one half mike to school and prefer natural homeopathic medications to treat illness, eat all organic, don't schedule every second of the day with organized activity, and still insist on sit down dinners every night as a family. Both are about a way of thinking and organizing your family. A type of practice. They are not mutually exclusive ideas.

    Answer by frogdawg at 8:16 AM on May. 13, 2013

  • My parenting has aspects of free range but probable others as well.

    While my mother was very free range lol at 5 I was going down to the local river to swim in "ponds" that pooled up in areas. I was with my brothers but the oldest was only 9, we had to walk about a mile to get there as well. Which is something I wouldn't feel comfortable doing.

    I don't really totally disagree with the mother of the 7mth old. We don't know how big the slide was, chances are it was one of the "baby" slides. I may have done the same thing...though I may have added a "I wouldn't do that if I was you". But not rushed right in.

    Answer by tntmom1027 at 12:11 PM on May. 13, 2013

  • I thought letting the seven-month-old go down the slide headfirst was way over the top. That's why I said, there's a line somewhere between hovering and letting your kids take unnecessary risks.

    Comment by Ballad (original poster) at 1:50 AM on May. 13, 2013