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The Pros and Cons of Free-Range Parenting

free-range parenting

Have you ever heard of free-range parenting? The approach to parenting is about allowing children to grow and develop without their parents hovering around constantly. Parents who don’t allow children to experience the outside world alone are referred to as helicopter parents.

The name free-range comes from a farming approach. Free-range livestock roams and grazes freely. The idea behind free-range parenting is the similar.

Free-range children are meant to be more independent and capable of solving problems. The children are encouraged to do a range of activities unsupervised.

free-range parenting

1. What are the “rules” of free-range parenting?

There are no hard and fast rules for free-range parenting. Here are some key features of the approach:

Parents put fear on the back burner

Opposition to free-range parenting is often rooted in fears for the safety of the children. “Helicopter parents” don’t let their children try something even slightly risky for fear of injury or harm.

Whereas, free-range parents have a different view. Accidents might happen and the child could be injured. The incidence of accidents is, however, outweighed by the positive experience of learning a lesson and possibly the successful feeling of accomplishment.

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Parents encourage independence

Independence is one of the key developmental milestones a child needs to reach for psychological survival. Free-range parents don’t throw their children in at the deep end. Parents use various means to prepare the the child so the child knows how to respond responsibly to any situation presented to them.

As per Jim Taylor, Ph.D, demanding accountability and encouraging exploration go hand in hand. An essential component of this parenting approach is to give children the tools they need to cope with life experiences. After that, it’s about letting the children out into the world to utilize the tools.

Parents understand the importance of the outdoors

The free-range parent approach emphasizes time spent in nature above screen time. On the other hand, children confined to indoor activities do not learn the value of outdoor play.

For children, outdoor play involves learning about the world around them and interacting socially with others. Using the outdoors, free-range parents teach their children to amuse themselves without relying on other people or technology to entertain them.

Parents don’t dictate the schedule

Children who spend too much time in structured activities do not learn to use their own initiative and be adaptable. Unstructured play is important for children.

Engaging in unstructured play allows children to interact with others and learn resiliency and tolerance. Instead of dictating the terms of play, free-range parents allow children to invent and play games with their own rules.

Parents don’t make all the decisions on the child’s behalf

Free-range parents make important decisions about education and house rules like any other parents. The line is drawn when it comes to decisions children can make alone. A child is can decide what to do in many situations without parental support.

Learning about decision-making and problem-solving are key elements of free-range parenting. Children learn the skills they need and get opportunities to apply them.

2. Why do parents choose the free-range parenting style?

Society is today dominated by helicopter parents. Parenting has become a process of cocooning children and protecting them for the perceived dangers the world presents. Parents are concerned that harm may befall the child the second they are out of sight.

Free-range parents understand that they cannot be there for their children every waking moment. The skills free-range parents want to teach their children are a means of preparing them for adulthood.

After all, adults need to be independent, solve problems and make responsible decisions. Free-range parents believe it is unrealistic to expect young adults to suddenly acquire the skills they need to survive the real world. Learning the skills early on in life makes the transition to adulthood easier.

Boomerang children or children who fail to launch are often the product of helicopter parenting. Out in the big, bad world, they cannot make decisions and behave independently. While free-range parents want their children to be successful adults who make an active contribution to society. Achieving this starts from childhood.

3. Do free-range parents not impose any limits at all on their children?

Newcomers to free-range parenting should not assume there are no rules in the home. Free-range parents still set house rules, bedtimes and mealtimes. Parents address issues of disrespect and bad manners in the home. One of the key features of free-range parenting is teaching children to understand that actions have consequences.

The approach doesn’t mean parents don’t care at all about safety. For example, like any other parent, a free-range parent will use a car seat for small children and insist on safety gear for bicycle riding.

Where free-range parenting diverges from other parenting styles is that children have more autonomy on how they spend their free time. Another factor is being able to do age-appropriate things alone.

For instance, free-range parents may encourage their children to go to the store alone. Parents expect children to use public transport responsibly and stay at home alone. The emphasis is on age-appropriate activities. Parents facilitate such activities instead of hindering them.

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4. What are the advantages of not placing too many limits on children?

Children who get the chance to make decisions and act independently are more resilient and better able to look after themselves.

“In the workplace, adults who had a free-range childhood are easy to spot,” says Ellen Beckett, an editor at AssignmentMasters. “They work without close supervision and take the initiative when it comes to decision-making, problem-solving, and conflict resolution.”

Adulthood and the workplace put people in tricky situations. The ability to address issues appropriately is easier after experiencing the free-range parenting approach.

Interactions with other children and facing tough choices prepares children for adolescence as well as adulthood. Peer pressure is less of a problem for children who are the product of free-range parenting. Having learned sound decision-making skills, these children are unlikely to give in and act irresponsibly.

5. Is the world such a dangerous place?

Helicopter parents look at free-range parents as irresponsible given the inherent dangers they believe children face. The dangers in society are over emphasized by the media-rich society we live in today.

Parents have more access to horrific stories about injured, abducted or killed children. So then the stories amplify parents’ fears for the safety of their children. In reality, their fears are unfounded.

In an article, statistics show that the world is the safest it’s ever been. For example, reports of missing children are declining. The number of children struck by cars is at its lowest rate ever. The largest risk children face, statistics indicate, is a lightning strike.

Free-range parents accept that danger is a reality. Actually the approach differs in that they choose to teach their children how to respond to danger. Whereas, helicopter parents try to shelter their children from danger.

6. What are the challenges (cons) of free-range parenting?

Free-range parenting came under the spotlight in 2008. Lenore Skenanzy wrote a column called “Why I Let my 9-Year-Old Ride the Subway Alone” which received immediate backlash. The writer was labeled “America’s Worst Mom” and faced a lot of criticism. Other parents were horrified and smugly thought they would never put their children in such a perilous situation.

Many free-range parents come under fire as others accuse them of neglect. Some have been subjected to formal investigations. Parents have even faced prosecution for allowing their children to play unsupervised in a park.

Being at the receiving end of such harsh treatment has made many hesitate to be free-range parents. However, some persisted and refused to allow others to dictate how they raise their children.

Utah now recognizes free-range parenting in the legislature. By no means does the relevant law give parents the right to neglect their offspring. Rather, police are no longer allowed to assume endangerment because of a lack of adult supervision.

Police may stop children walking to the store alone to check on their safety. Police cannot, however, make accusations of neglect or endangerment on the basis that the children were not accompanied by an adult.

The state acknowledges the parents’ right to determine activities their children may undertake unsupervised. Parents need to give their children permission for such unsupervised activities.

7. The product of a free-range childhood

Adults raised as free-range children state their childhoods were punctuated by exploration, adventure and excitement. Parents gave them more control from a young age, which they embraced.

Many free-range children feel they are better prepared for adulthood compared to their more sheltered counterparts. Less reliance on those around them to make decisions on their behalf means they are capable of independent thoughts and actions.

Another thing free-range children can more easily do is accept the consequences of the decisions and choices they make. After all, they’ve been doing it since they were very young.

Pro or Con?

When young children have freedom of choice they are more prepared for the realities of adulthood. Free-range children learn the principles of consequence management from an early age. Independence is more important now than ever before to navigate the complicated lives society imposes on us. Free-range parenting is the best way to make a start to ensure the future success of our children.

Guest post: Sara Williams is an editor, journalist, writer from San Jose. She likes to read the world classics and traveling. Almost all spare time she spares to reading. Meet her on Linkedin and Twitter.

Copyright 2019 Safe Ride 4 Kids. All rights reserved. You may not publish, broadcast, rewrite or redistribute this material without permission. You are welcome to link to Safe Ride 4 Kids or share on social media.

© amie durocher


  1. The title is incredibly misleading. There is no comparison whatsoever between pros and cons. This is an argument advocating for free-range parenting and should be labeled as such. It is a well-written argument, though it relies almost exclusively on anecdotal evidence and statistics regarding child safety that could well be the result of an increase in parental supervision, thus negating your point. However, it doesn’t claim to be a scholarly article, so that’s fine. But I was looking for a pros and cons list and this did not have one, so I’m not happy I read the whole damn thing and got the same one-sides argument I’ve been seeing everywhere else. If I wanted another of those, I wouldn’t have clicked on an article claiming to compare pros and cons.

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