parents

Free range parenting is helping our kids, not hindering them.

When I was younger, my brother was hit by a car. I was there and I saw it. So did my mother.

We were walking into town and I think Mum’s mission that day was to return a faulty iron or something as equally mundane. I would have been no older than eight, my brother almost 11.

That day was like almost any other day, except for the heavy rainfall the night before. Because of this, there was a lot of water on the road and as we walked single file on the side of the road, facing the traffic, Mum called ahead to my brother to ‘get across the road before the next car came along and splashed us’. He, being a literal kind of kid, took off, straight across the road and into the oncoming traffic. Directly into the path of a white panel van driving down the road at 60kms an hour.

“My Mum would question her turn of phrase so many times in the coming years that she would almost turn herself inside out.”

My mother had meant for him to go dead ahead, not across into the traffic. She would question her turn of phrase so many times in the coming years that she would almost turn herself inside out.

He was thrown a good 40 metres along the road, into the air, his face skidding along the bitumen, until he collided with a guard rail which stopped his decent into the free flowing creek below. He got lucky. We got lucky.

Parents investigated for neglect after letting children walk home alone

Ironically, prior to that day, my mother was very strict in her parenting style. In fact, it could be said she almost invented ‘Helicopter Parenting’. She walked us to and from school each day and we most certainly didn’t cross a road without her hand firmly holding ours. She knew everything there was to know about us and nothing concerning either my brother or myself was ever left to chance.

“That all changed after my brother was hit by that car. “

That all changed after my brother was hit by that car. I became the very opposite of the child I once was. Suddenly it was like my mother had an epiphany. She realised that she couldn’t control everything and that maybe, by holding on too tight, the very thing she was terrified of most had happened anyway. That’s why I’m guessing we became what is now known as “free range children”, seemingly overnight.

Suddenly I was allowed to walk to school unaided. On my weekends I’d leave at dawn and return at dusk. I’d circumnavigate the neighbourhood without anything other than my pushbike and a loose plan to visit my friends a few blocks away. Before long I’d honed my street skills well and I made it through childhood, seemingly unscathed. As did most of my generation. Mum backed away and it worked.

And yet to be a “free range parent” in today’s society, not only is it often frowned upon, you can find yourself in trouble with the law. As parents Danielle and Alexander Meitiv recently discovered.

“Suddenly I was allowed to walk to school unaided. On my weekends I’d leave at dawn and return at dusk.”

Mr and Mrs Meitiv have found themselves being investigated for letting their children, Dvora and Rafi, 10 and 6 respectively, walk home alone from the park, which is approximately 1.5 kilometres from their home. Danielle and Alexander, seemingly perplexed as to why people would call on law enforcement when their children are simply walking to the park, are asking if they are being unfairly persecuted.

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But what is “free range parenting” anyway?

Parenting before Google. How did anyone actually do that?

According to New Yorker Lenore Skenazy, the founder of the Free-Range Kids movement, it is a child “who gets treated as a smart, young, capable individual, not an invalid who needs constant attention and help.”

So then, how do we as modern parents decide how much leeway we should be giving our kids? Our first instinct is to protect our children but by wrapping them in cotton wool, are we helping or hindering them?

“But what is free range parenting anyway?”

Personally, I think it depends on the child. I think that the Meitivs were very well aware of their children’s capabilities. They weren’t neglecting them, they were trying to instill independence and allow them to be kids and do what kids do, something no one would have blinked at 20 years ago. And yes, I know times have changed, but maybe that’s to the detriment of this generation.

I think it also depends on the parent who should be able to identify their own child’s abilities. No two children are the same.

Here’s the thing, we as parents invest so much into our children that we forget that they are in fact, their own person. We forget that they don’t require bubble wrap. That they don’t require for us to step them through every single stage of their lives. That we need to give them wings and time to discover their own intuition. That yes, we should be guiding them, but we also have to prepare them for the real world. That means we can’t watch for oncoming traffic for them for the rest of their lives. We have to teach them to watch out for it themselves. As adults we’ve learned from our failures, hell, we’re still learning from them, so it’s only natural that we should let our children experiment, otherwise they’ll simply be running on the spot.

“To hover, to deny them their independence and to assume they’ll be able to instinctively pick this up later in life, isn’t good parenting.”

As parents, we need to equip our children with the right tools to handle situations. The knowledge and the wherewithal to deal with different scenarios. To hover, to deny them their independence and to assume they’ll be able to instinctively pick this up later in life, isn’t good parenting.

The hypothetical conversation that will change everything you think about parenting.

At what age you decide to let your child walk to the park or to the shop or attend their first co-ed party is an individual choice. But make sure you are making that choice based on your child’s ability to cope, not your own.

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