It’s telling that in recent decades there’s been a significant shift towards helicopter parenting and a comeback trend in free-range parenting for counterbalance. Remember Danielle and Alexander Meitiv, the free-range parents in Maryland under fire for “unsubstantiated” child neglect for allowing their 10 and 6-year-old children to walk home alone from a park a mile away? How could you forget, right? Their case fueled questions in the parenting community that are still buzzing. 1) Where does free-range parenting stop and neglect begin? 2) What about helicopter parenting — is it any better or worse for children? And 3) when that toddler suffered a kidnap attempt while unattended in a park, is that an example of why free-range parenting today is under attack?
I may be in my 30s, but I’m old enough to say I remember when free-range parenting was just, you know, parenting. However, free-range for my brother and me only extended to our visits to the country. Our parents were divorced; Dad was free-ranging it out there while Mom was hovering in the city. They both had good reasons for their opposing parenting styles.
Free-range parenting is not one-size-fits-most. There’s a spectrum. You have to consider the child, the environment(s), the times, and even culture.
While pregnant and living in rural South Korea, I was startled to see preschool-aged kids running errands for their parents. The thing is, the village still raises the children there. Everyone was looking out for those little ones. And if they got into trouble, their parents would probably hear about that, too.
Here in the States, it’s a different story. Even a few decades ago, free-ranging it in any major city was risky business. Our mom and her husband were cops. And the stories they told us (they really shouldn’t have) were horrifying! Therefore, knowing what was really going on in our city, free-range parenting was out of the question for us. I get that . . . now.
Instead, my brother and I were taught basic self-defense, how to not be soft targets, to be vigilant, to play only on our street, and we did not go over friends’ homes unless the parents were “vetted” first. Pretty much the opposite of what we were used to in the country, where we were locked out of the house until sunset.
But what about fear and anxiety and all the negative things that accompany raising kids the way my brother and I were raised in the city? It’s true. We were rife with that stuff. They could have done a better job educating and protecting us without shocking the innocence out of us (damnable police stories). A little moderation does go a long way. Fortunately, our time in the country — the opposite extreme — balanced it out. Most curious and telling, however, is when our dad would take us into the city. He put that free-range philosophy in his back pocket. Yes, he did!
Caught between two parents and their polar opposite approaches to parenting, wouldn’t you know I turned out to be the type that prefers to roam free, living in different countries, and my brother prefers to hover near the city our mom raised us. And now that we both have families of our own, I think we can agree we learned a lot from Mom and Dad’s parenting styles, particularly how Dad would shift when different factors were introduced.
It’s safe to say parenting is never, ever a ONE-HAT job, but rather it’s one with an ever-expanding job description and volumes of fine print. Only those with highly adaptable skills who require very little sleep and almost zero appreciation need apply.
Tip: Everyone, free-range to close-range, should have basic knowledge of self-defense. I feel freer knowing I can defend myself, if necessary. Moreover, children empowered with the knowledge of self-defense are more confident and less likely to be bullied or targeted by adult predators. And those who fight back are less likely to be abducted. Therefore, you may find the following helpful: Self-defense for kids and Self-defense for you.