Everything Kids

Free-Range Parenting Isn't Neglect, so Stop Penalizing Them for It

kids walking to school
Are you as sick of these stories of free-range parents getting in trouble with the law as I am? Parents who let their kids walk somewhere by themselves or play at the park without them are not neglecting their children. It's a choice, and a valid one.

In the most recent overreaction to free-range kids, a 10-year-old boy and his six-year-old sister were walking one mile from their Maryland home to the park when they were stopped by police. While I have no problem with the police checking to make sure the kids were okay on their walk, and even the fact that they took them home to confirm that it was okay for them to be out on their own, but what happened next is uncalled for. A few hours later the county's child protective services showed up, requiring the father to sign a pledge that he would not leave his children unsupervised until the following Monday when the agency would follow up. If he didn't sign, his children would be removed from the home. Since then, social workers have tried to examine their home and interviewed their children at school without the parents knowledge or permission.

Wow. Just wow. When interviewed by The Washington Post, the mother in this story shares intelligent, reasonable explanations of their free-range parenting decisions: their kids have developed the skills and proven they are responsible enough to walk to the park on their own; it's important for children's development to learn self-reliance; and child abductions are actually quite rare. "Parenthood is an exercise in risk management," she said. "Every day, we decide: Are we going to let our kids play football? Are we going to let them do a sleepover? Are we going to let them climb a tree? We're not saying parents should abandon all caution. We're saying parents should pay attention to risks that are dangerous and likely to happen."

I couldn't agree more. Kids need to build confidence about their ability to handle the world, and we as parents can help them do that by thoughtfully giving them more freedom and independence based on their maturity and skills. At what age a child is ready to walk to the corner mailbox, ride her bike around the block, or walk a mile to the park is going to be different for each kid. But when they are ready, giving them those small experiences of conquering the world on their own will help them develop into confident, responsible adults. After all, isn't that the goal of parenting?

Ellen Sturm Niz is a New York City-based editor and writer who fondly remembers walking a half-mile to the local Dairy Queen when she was a kid growing up in Dayton, Ohio. Follow her on Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+ to see more of her articles about kids and parenting, home design and DIY projects, and food trends and menu ideas.

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