Sunday, February 15, 2015

Free Range Parenting; Good or Bad

In the past few weeks, there have been several cases in which families who follow free range parenting (a philosophy that believes in allowing children the freedom to explore and develop autonomy) have found themselves in potential legal trouble for giving their children some leeway to explore.  In one case, a South Carolina mom was arrested for allowing her 9-year-old to play alone at the park.  In Maryland, a couple was reported for allowing their children to freely roam the neighborhood. And just recently another mother found herself dealing with a police officer when she let her kids out alone. “All we did was let our kids go to the park,” she says, adding that CPS threatened her by saying that if she didn’t sign a parenting plan agreeing to keep the kids under direct supervision at all times, “we’re going to take the kids.”

Life is full of relative risk, and absolute safety is an illusion. While an unsupervised child is certainly more vulnerable to being picked up by a predator should one be lurking nearby, these type of high profile abductions are also extremely rare.  Too put things in perspective, the choice to put your child inside a car is  is hundreds or even thousands of times more likely to lead to their demise.  So should CPS also investigate parents and threaten to snatch their children away when they drive their kids to school? 

Risk from life cannot be eliminated.  Everything in life has potential benefits and potential risks, but if you try to eliminate risk by constraining a child, you also forgo it’s benefits.  And many people don’t realize that these days just as many young children are dying from obesity related medical complications as are meeting their doom in the type of nightmarish incident parents dread, and the obesity epidemic is at least partially related to parents promoting lifestyles that keep kids restricted and immobile.

Research tends to support the idea of  free range parenting.  Kids get more exorcise, they play more  creatively, and they develop more competence and better social skills.  The literature on overprotective parenting is not so supportive.  Overprotected children exhibit higher rates of stress, anxiety, depression, and frustration.  They tend to struggle a lot more with adversity in life.  They aren’t as happy and develop more psychological disorders.  So the fact that the CPS bureaucracy is now aiming their weapons at families who are arguably doing everything right is more than a little concerning.

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