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Free-Range Parenting

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

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.

The key is making sure that the activities your children engage in on their own are appropriate given their age and skill level. Gallagher suggests that parents ask themselves the following questions before allowing their children to venture off on their own:

  1. Does my child have the disposition to handle the activity?
  2. Can he or she follow rules?
  3. Does my child know what to do in case there is a problem?
  4. Does my child know from whom it is safe to ask for help?
  5. Does my child have a sense of how to reach out to parents, use a phone, distinguish between police officers and other people?

Also critical to a successful adventure (not to mention reduced anxiety for you as a parent) is to make sure that your child is fully trained for the task at hand.

Before Skenazy allowed her 9-year-old son to ride the New York City subway alone, she prepared him. “I taught him how to take the subway, made sure he could read a map, and understood uptown and downtown,” she says.

“I totally agree that you need to prepare your children,” Semaya says. “But you help to prepare your child to present his book report, not to take a subway alone in New York City at the age of nine. It’s one thing to give your kid freedom, it’s another to let him out on the town alone. I don’t think that’s being over protective.”

The bottom line, Gallagher says, is that any extreme with regard to parenting is inappropriate. Parenting is really a question of balance; balancing the amount of supervision kids have and giving them some freedom to try new things.

“Let them face some consequences of their own actions that won’t harm them, but will teach them some lessons,” Gallagher says.

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Reviewed on July 28, 2009

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