Have you heard the term “Free Range Parenting”? It’s becoming popular in the US but has been discussed less here in the UK. Wikipedia defines it like this:
“… the concept of raising children in the spirit of encouraging them to function independently and with limited parental supervision, in accordance of their age of development and with a reasonable acceptance of realistic personal risks.”
It could also be described as a 1980s childhood. Neither my Mum nor I can remember exactly when I started “Playing out”. We think it was somewhere after the age Girl Child is now (6) but before the age of Boy Child (8). I’m an only child and I suspect I would have driven my (work at home) Mum to distraction if she hadn’t been able to send me to play in the street with my friends. We lived in a London suburb, in a cul de sac, and often played literally in the road. All my friends played out, often with their much younger siblings in tow. A summer not spent out in the street would have been unthinkable. My children by contrast have never played out.
Why Free Range Parenting?
I believe it’s really important for children to have the freedom to work things out for themselves, otherwise how will they do it as adults? I believe a child has a right to some time away from adult supervision to get to know themselves. Children have to be given freedom at some point. For me, the teenage years, when hormones are causing chaos, isn’t a good time. I would much rather they have their first taste of freedom when mummy and daddy are still the most important people in their life, before the influence of their friends becomes too strong. By learning to manage smaller risks by themselves as children, I believe they’ll be better able to handle the bigger risks they’ll encounter as teenagers.
No parent has the time/energy/inclination to entertain a child if they are at home for all of the time they aren’t at school. It’s no wonder that they are being allowed to spend more and more time on screens. This in turn is contributing to the childhood obesity problem. I think free range parenting could be the answer.
Safety and Legality
I don’t believe that human nature has changed much in the last 30 years, if it ever has, so I don’t believe its any more dangerous to free range parent now than it was when I was a child. I’m concerned about road safety but that’s something that can be taught. I don’t want fear to rule my children’s lives. By teaching them clear rules I believe we can give our children freedom while keeping them safe.
In the UK, legally, letting children out on their own is a bit of a grey area. In the same way that there’s no set age to allow children to stay home alone, there’s no set age when they can be out alone. The NSPCC does offer some guidance and stresses the importance of considering your child’s level of maturity, not just their age. In the US, parents, including most famously Lenore Skanazy, have had their children picked up by the police because they’ve been seen playing alone. This is starting to change now with Utah introducing laws to protect free range parenting.
Free Range Friends
The other thing I’m concerned about is the reaction of his friends parents. I asked my Facebook friends how much freedom their children got because I wanted to let Boy Child play out. The response was pretty positive. However there were plenty of people who didn’t comment and I suspect some of them would be uncomfortable with a free range approach. I know that when he tells his friends he is playing out they will want to do it too. It will be difficult for parents who aren’t ready to take that step yet. My hope is that they won’t judge my choices and might feel more confident letting their children play out when the time is right.
There is a green space across the road, about two minutes walk from my house. Children who live nearby play there after school. I want Boy Child (and eventually Girl Child) to play there too. We’ve made a start on the free range parenting journey by giving him some small freedoms. We let him go and find his ball when he kicks it over the fence (again). We’ve sent him to the post box to post a letter for us. We’ve left him at home alone for 10 minutes when dropping his sister off at Beavers. We are also teaching him to cross the road safely, letting him make the decision about when it’s safe. He thinks he’s ready and actually I think he is too, his Dad just needs a bit more convincing!
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