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Health & Parenting

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Free-Range Parenting

It’s a new, hands-off approach to raising kids. Should you give it a try?

There’s a Reason it’s Called Self-Esteem

Good parents today, we seem to feel, carefully plan their children’s lives in an effort to prepare them for the future. The question is: How much is doing too much for our kids?

“It’s like 10 is the new 2,” Skenazy says. “Anything you would have been doing for your toddler is being replicated when they are 9, 10, and 11.”

In an effort to keep them safe, boost their self-confidence, and make sure they get into an Ivy League college, we shuttle them from soccer practice, to Mandarin Chinese lessons, to karate, to violin. We make sure that every kid who participates in Little League, win or lose, gets a trophy at the end of the season, lest any child’s feelings are hurt.

But the truth is that self-esteem comes from attempting something that’s a little difficult and either succeeding or failing and trying again until you do succeed.

“The message you get if your parents do everything from driving you to school to waiting at the bus stop to doing your science fair project is ‘I love you so much, but I don’t think you can do this,’” Skenazy says. “That’s why they call it self-confidence, not parent-assisted confidence.”

Yet Jereski says it’s hard to know where to draw the line. “I very much want him to learn how to be independent and make his own decisions and give him the freedom to do that,” she says of her son. “I’m trying to find that balance, but you have to be careful with your children. You’re responsible, and there are unforeseen things.”

To Free-Range or Not to Free-Range?

Many parents have interpreted “free-range” to mean completely hands-off. But Skenazy says that’s not what free-range parenting is about. It is a decision to give your child freedom and responsibility while preparing him for it. Some experts seem to think there is a real upside to stepping back and letting kids do more on their own.

“When parents do provide their kids with more responsibility, kids mature more quickly and I do think that they feel more accomplished,” Gallagher says.

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