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Parenting Perspectives - A Free Range Family

Is Free Range Parenting a throwback to "the good old days" or simply irresponsible?

Last week we began an examination of parenting styles. That article discussed the pros and cons of highly protective “Helicopter” Parenting. Today we examine the other end of the spectrum: “Free Range” Parenting.

In 2008, Lenore Skenazy authored a New York Sun article detailing why she let her 9 year old son ride the subway home by himself.  An immediate storm of mostly negative publicity brought Skenazy into the national spotlight. Shocked and confused by the attention, Skenazy began a blog to explain her “commonsense approach to parenting in these overprotective times.”  She coined the phrase “Free Range Parenting” to describe her philosophy of allowing children the same freedoms that many adults enjoyed during their own childhood.  Far from being anti-safety, Skenazy notes in her blog, “We believe in life jackets and bike helmets and air bags. But we also believe in independence.”

This approach works well for Avondale Estates resident Jenn Purdy and her family. With four children ranging in age from 5 to 12, she enjoys giving them the freedom to explore and enjoy some age-appropriate independence. “We didn’t want our kids sitting at home inside all the time. There are issues of getting enough sunlight, enough exercise, moving your body. “ Skenazy’s 2009 book, “Free Range Kids – How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry),” influenced Purdy’s parenting.  “She talks about the whole fear factor,” Purdy says. “We’re afraid of these things that aren’t really happening because the news blows them up.”

Purdy’s childhood memories also motivate her parenting choices. “A lot of times I was on my own. I rode my bike. I loved riding my bike by myself.”  She believes constant parental intervention handicaps a child’s ability to become self-reliant.  “If we’re always with them and always monitoring their decisions and their arguments, they don’t get that sense of independence to do it on their own. Then they can’t do it when they’re adults.”

Purdy credits her Avondale neighborhood as part of the reason the lifestyle works for her family. “Our boys can go out on a bike ride or walk to the pool or ride their scooters with friends, or things like that. It’s quiet and enough people know each other that other people can call me [if there is a problem].” Purdy continued, speaking of her neighbors, “We have these conversations of ‘Are you locking your kids up or are you going to let them out?’ It takes a community of people to overcome that fear.”

The benefits of Free Range Parenting are visible to Purdy and her family. “It can make them more confident and comfortable without adults around all the time. So even if we’re home, we might tell them to work something out on their own. They don’t have to come tell me every little thing. I think it’s making them better problem solvers and have better relationships with each other and other kids.”

When asked what she’d say to parents intrigued by Free Range Parenting, Purdy said, “I’d give them Lenore’s book because she’s done the research. There’s an education factor to it, but your fears can still override what you know, so for individual parents you have to dig deep and look into what makes you afraid of something. If it’s really irrational, if you choose to bring yourself to a place to overcome that, maybe test [Free Range Parenting] out and give your kids a little more freedom.”

Like last week’s protective parents, Purdy agreed that reflection is vital. “Parenting is hard and it takes a lot of thought, and trying new things and never feeling like you figure it out because they just keep growing.”

Jennifer Burrell August 11, 2011 at 08:50 PM
In response to a question, here are the Georgia guidelines for leaving children without adult supervision. Children under 8 years old should never be left alone, even for short periods of time. Children between the ages of 9 and 12, based on level of maturity, can be left home alone for brief periods of time. It is strongly discouraged for parents to have 13 year olds baby sit infants, small children, and children that require special attention due to medical conditions. Children 15 and older can be left home alone overnight, depending on the level of maturity of the child. More information can be found at the Georgia Department of Human Resources website: http://sbwc.georgia.gov
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