Wednesday, April 15, 2015

My Thoughts on Free-Range Parenting

Free-range parenting has been in the news lately.   Apparently that is a philosophy where parents let young children (say under 10-12) go places by themselves or be places by themselves.

It's a controversial.  Of course. 

Sometimes the parents get in trouble for it and CPS gets involved.

It's been on my mind lately because we currently live on a busy, major road without sidewalks so really no one, no matter their age, can walk or bike anywhere.   The only way to get someplace is to drive.   However, we will soon live in a place that is more walkable/bikeable, so I've been thinking about how much freedom I will give my kids. 

My natural inclination is to NOT be free-range. 

I didn't grow up "free-range" so the idea of kids going places by themselves is really something I only read about in books, but not something I ever experienced. 

 I grew up on a busy street where walking about would have been quite dangerous and I pretty much didn't go anyplace by myself until I was old enough to drive.  There was basically no place to go.  Maybe I'd go to the neighbor's house (but we weren't really friends with many neighbors), and when I was older (like 14-15) I might have have walked to a nearby super expensive, very trendy toy-store to buy Christmas presents or walk in the tree nursery across the street.  Occasionally I rode my bike to a nearby horse stable but I was at least 14-15 then.   And it wasn't that safe, because riding your bike on narrow 2-lane road with a 25 mph speed limit where people routinely go 50 mph is not that safe. 

But that's it.  I didn't take jaunts to the store or the library.  I didn't walk to/from school. There were no sidewalks or safe places to walk in my town.  I didn't spend hours outside wandering the neighborhood. 

I think that has both good and bad points.

Yes, I was probably a little less independent as a 10-year old than a lot of other 10-year olds. 

However, I also was never exposed to peer pressure.    I'm sure all children who grew up in the 80's and 90's remember drug education in schools. I always thought it was weird, because I never experienced any peer pressure to use drugs or smoke.  Probably because I didn't spend any time really hanging out with other kids in really unsupervised settings.  Not that my parents hovered over us in the backyard or anything....certainly not.  But we didn't go many places where there weren't other adults in charge. 

And once I learned how to drive (at age 16) I was never any less independent than any of my peers.  I definitely don't think that not being able to wander around town by myself at age 9 ever hurt me and by the time I learned how to drive, I was just as independent as the next 16-year old.  

So, I'm not convinced that kids need to wander around freely to have a happy or healthy childhood. 

Although I'm not saying that letting kids be free-range is bad. 

Overall though, I can't imagine that I would feel comfortable letting a 10-year old and 7-year play at a park a mile from home by themselves.

That is outside my comfort zone. 

Don't get my wrong...I don't hover over my kids in the backyard.  But my general philosophy is that if a child is too young to be home alone then they are too young to be out in public alone.   With the exception of short walks going from one place to another...maybe to/from school or to/from a neighbor's house.  But I would not feel comfortable with extended periods of being unsupervised in public places before a child is old enough to be unsupervised at home. 

However, I now have a 13-year old....which changes things considerably and is why I'm left pondering this whole issue. Because thirteen IS old enough. 

So we'll have to see the layout of the land and what things are like before I make any decisions.

There are a lot of factors involved in the decision to let kids "go places" by themselves.

What about you?

Do you have any thoughts on free-range parenting?

Do your kids go places by themselves?

Where?  How far? What age? 

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