As the mother of a ten- and eight-year-old, I try to strike a comfortable balance. I allow my kids to play outside unsupervised and walk to friends' houses up the road without me, but I don't let them ride their bikes around the neighborhood alone, because I know they aren't always responsible when pedaling across the street. I am continually reevaluating and adjusting what I allow my kids to do based on their behavior--giving them more freedom when they act responsibly or taking away freedoms when they demonstrate poor judgement. Being a parent means adapting to the ever-changing abilities of kids.
Free-range parenting has its pros and cons, and in the end, everyone needs to decide how to parent based on their kids and their specific situation.
Pro: Fresh Air.1 of 9
Free-range parenting gives kids more time outside. If my kids were only able to be outside when I could supervise, their fresh air supply would diminish substantially. Since they don't have to wait for me to finish folding the laundry, they can climb trees while I pair socks.
Con: Risk of Injury.2 of 9
If someone does something foolish like hang on a thin tree branch or try to use an umbrella as a parachute, there can be real danger and no parent to prevent it.
Pro: More Adventures.3 of 9
There's a reason why countless kids' stories start with a child becoming an orphan: because grown-ups are constantly ruining a good adventure. Kids are more creative when they can craft their own games and scenarios, and playing without adult intervention makes kids feel like they are in their favorite book or movie.
Con: Bad Words.4 of 9
Even though I'm a fan of salty language, I don't love that my kids learned their baddest words from older kids when playing outside without a grown-up in earshot.
Pro: Learn Problem-Solving Skills.5 of 9
Kids learn problem-solving skills when given the space to work out issues without an adult moderating. Adults can't help but intervene when they hear something going on that seems illogical or unfair, but kids need the chance to work those situations out themselves. Learning how to play well with others--and how to compromise--is a key skill for children that will translate into their adulthood.
Con: It's Not Easy.6 of 9
Allowing kids freedom to be home alone, to play outside, to ride bikes in the neighborhood and to walk to a friend's house or to school alone takes practice. Parents need to do these things with their kids a few times before their children are ready to tackle it on their own. Rules of safety and what to do in different situations must be told, retold and told again before kids are ready to experience these exciting challenges themselves. Free-range parenting isn't just letting kids go free. It's setting expectations, modeling behavior and holding children accountable to the parameters.
Pro: More Free Time For You.7 of 9
Once you get over the initial discomfort of having the kids out of your sight, you can enjoy the quiet while your children are off having fun. Set up a system of check-ins with your kids so it's easy to keep track of where they are and where they will be at a certain time.
Con: Protective Neighbors.8 of 9
There is the chance that a well-intentioned adult may see your child without a grown-up and call for unnecessary help. Even unfounded accusations come with a whole pile of problems. Get to know your neighbors and make sure everyone is on the same page--it can even be helpful to have extra eyes watching your children play.
Kids are meant to play outside. They are supposed to make up ridiculous games and craft elaborate, make-believe worlds. Our world seems more dangerous because of what we see on the news, but it is actually safer than when we were kids. Our children might be missing out because of our fears. Unstructured playtime costs nothing but trust and planning, and it builds self-esteem, problem-solving skills, interpersonal skills and creativity.