What Does Free-Range Parenting Really Mean?

Do I just let them run wild?

AskLenore Free Range Parenting

Have you read about the mom who’s raising kids who aren’t disciplined, aren’t given medicine, and, at age 5, aren’t weaned off breastfeeding yet? She calls this Free-Range Parenting.

I don’t. And as the gal who wrote the book Free-Range Kids and even  trademarked that phrase (my friend is a lawyer), I can definitively state that Free-Range Parenting does not mean “no shoes, no bed-time, no rules.” It doesn’t even mean “no Oreos.”

What Free-Range Parenting Isn’t

The mom in that article, Adele Allan, certainly parents in way that’s tabloid-worthy. She uses the phrase “Free-Range” to describe it. Her definition includes letting her kids choose when (if ever) to stop breast-feeding, and not making them wear shoes in public because “it’s a great way for feet to feel alive.”

Okay! But that’s not what *I* mean when I talk about Free Range-Parenting.

What Free-Range Parenting Is

By my definition, Free-Range Parenting is simply the belief that our kids are safer and smarter than our culture gives them credit for. Free-Range Parents are not hands-off. We teach our kids the old-fashioned lessons our parents taught us: Look both ways before crossing the street. Don’t go off with strangers. Let us know if you’re not going to be home when you said you’d be.

But then beyond that, we trust them to do the things on their own that many of us did at their age: walk to school, play outside, scramble eggs. We believe that giving kids some unstructured, unsupervised time when we think they’re ready isn’t crazy dangerous. It’s normal. It lets them learn how to make their own fun and solve some of their own problems. A scrape, a spat, an afternoon with “nothing to do” — we not only think they can handle these things, we believe they grow more resilient once they discover their own resourcefulness. Always hovering isn’t necessary for them — and it takes up a lot of OUR free time too. 

Our outlook has nothing to do with breastfeeding or shoe-avoiding, and everything to do with trusting our kids, our communities and our own parenting. We don’t believe the world is perfect. But we also don’t believe it’s so dangerous that we can never take our eyes off our kids. We believe in facts: Crime is creeping back up, but it is still low compared to the ’80s, ’90s and most of this century (here’s our Crime Stats page). Meantime, the practice of filling almost all our kids’ time with adult-supervised, adult-structured activities seems to be making kids anxious and depressed, the way anyone micromanaged would feel. 

There are many ways to raise Free-Range Kids.

At Let Grow, the nonprofit that grew out of Free-Range Kids, we don’t think there is one right way to do anything, including parenting or educating (or weaning!). We simply believe in kids. We refuse to act as if somehow this current crop is more fragile than any previous generation. 

The mom in that New York Post piece is — obviously! — free to do what she wishes. But please know that her definition of “Free-Range Kids” isn’t ours. You don’t have to skip vaccinations or breast-feed till freshman orientation to raise kids with some self-confidence and direction. Just take a step back and watch them step up.

And if you want to meet other parents thinking about these very issues and supporting each other as they try to loosen the reins a bit, please join our Facebook group, Raising Independent Kids