Free-Range vs. Helicopter Parenting: Do Kids Need More Freedom?

Free-Range vs. Helicopter Parenting: Do Kids Need More Freedom?

Many parents have heard of helicopter parenting juxtaposed to free-range parenting. Helicopter parents are described as overly-involved by hovering over children, and come to the rescue at the first perceived sign of distress. The term was coined nearly 20 years ago and it’s associated with parents responding to their own anxiety and worry more than their child’s. Helicopter parents are known to be very involved in their child’s school, often transferring their involvement into adult life by going as far as participating in college applications and job interviews.  

In contrast, free-range parenting connotes sending kids off into the world with the confidence that they can figure it out. In reality, free-range parenting is a style denoting the strength with which our children are born and their ability to handle challenges.  

Lenore Skenazy, author of “Free-Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry),” defines a free-range kid as someone “who gets treated as a smart, young, capable individual, not an invalid who needs constant attention and help.” Children raised developmentally appropriately will want independence and crave the opportunity to prove what they can do on their own.

Parents today did not grow up with their parents trailing behind or demanding periodic check-ins before calling in the National Guard. As a generation of parents, we risk undermining our kids’ ability to cope by over emphasizing an unfound fear of danger.

When it comes to helicopter parenting versus free-range parenting, Juli Hicks, a Copley mom of an 11-year-old daughter and 25-year-old son, says, “There needs to be a balance of both and it is a bit dependent on the child’s personality and capability. With each stage, my children have been given more space to make their decisions and mistakes.”

Debra Lane is a Wadsworth mom of three — a son in second grade, daughter in sixth grade and son in eighth grade — who says, “I know the crime rate is much lower now than when I was growing up, but I’m still nervous. What’s different now is we are almost too involved in our children’s lives. When I was young, my mom didn’t know what I was doing or where I was going. What you don’t know doesn’t hurt you.

“Now, parents spend a lot more time with their kids and we see everything going on and in turn feel more cautious,” she continues. “I admit I’m a helicopter mom when it comes to physical safety like bike helmets, but I’m a free-range mom with emotional growth and development. If you get into an argument with someone at school or on the playground, you need to figure it out yourself. Unless you are bleeding, I don’t want to get involved.”

Lane adds, “When my oldest started walking to school in seventh grade, I felt terrified when he left the house in the dark in the morning. Since he was walking to school, then arriving home alone, he got his first cell phone to stay in touch with me and his dad. At first I asked him to send me a “thumbs up” text when arriving in school, but after a while he forgot. I actually forgot, too, and felt a little guilt over not staying in touch — but then I had to remember this is the natural course of things.”

Start small. Let your child go to a different part of the grocery store to pick up an item on your list and trust they will return to you, or find you if you move on to the next aisle. If your kid’s school is within walking distance, allow them to walk to and from school with friends (like we all used to do) instead of driving them the half mile to and from school.  

Give them the chance to figure it out on their own by knowing you gave them the tools to fix their own problems. Give your kid the freedom to surprise you and in turn prove what a great parent you are.

About the author

Michelle Dickstein is a full-time working mom of three. Her passions include food, family vacations, and helping others live their best lives. You can read more from her at emailingwithmygirlfriends.com or northeastohioparent.com/bloggers.

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