Free Range Parenting

Exposing kids to risk and danger.


The arrival of children in a new parent’s life naturally brings with it enormous changes. One of the more disconcerting ones is a sudden, unlimited capacity to worry.  In amongst the solemn duties to love, feed, nurture, play, bathe, clothe and educate this tiny helpless baby from the outset is also an implied promise to protect.

Naturally most parents take this part of the job incredibly seriously. But we all perceive potential risks and danger differently when it comes to our kids. Some see a coffee table, others see potential life-threatening injuries lurking on its  sharp edges.  

Labels and warnings are on anything that even remotely poses a choking or suffocation risk for a child; playgrounds are designed to eliminate hazards and ways for kids to hurt themselves. Metal roundabouts, monkey bars and wooden seesaws have disappeared. Even the actual ground is often now a soft, spongy surface of recycled tyres to prevent scrapes and cushion falls. 

The upshot is researchers are finding that our kids are no longer being exposed to a certain level of risk and danger because everything has become so sanitised and safe. 

But as it turns out, learning about the dangers in the world is an important part of growing up. So is the chance to explore and socialise, independently of hovering “helicopter” parents.

But what is the solution? Parents’ hearts are in the right place. What’s wrong with trying to prevent our kids from suffering from sickness or injury?

But are we hurting our children by over-protecting them?

Author and journalist Lenore Skenazy, dubbed the “Worst Mom in America” for letting her then 9 year old ride the subway runs the blog Free Range Kids. While a huge fan of safety, she says “we just do not believe that every time school age kids go outside, they need a security detail”.

Crime is lower than it ever has been but we’re all worried there is a predator hiding in every bush, possibly because 24 hour TV news makes it seem this way. 

Free range parenting advocates more freedom for our children, to let them ride their bike to the shops, to cook dinner, to catch the bus home, to experience more of life out from behind the apron strings.

There are other movements springing up trying to reclaim childhood for our coddled kids. 

Gever Tully has spoken about 5 Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Kids Do ( which includes letting your kids play with fire and own a pocket knife because kids are always going to figure out how to do dangerous things and every time the boundaries of the “safety zone” grow smaller we cut off valuable opportunities for kids to learn about and interact with the world around them.

Amy Chua the notorious “Tiger Mom” who wrote about parenting the Chinese way says their culture sees children are strong, whereas in the West we assume our kids are fragile.

This perceived fragility is what makes us worry. Maybe the truth lies somewhere underneath that cotton wool. But I do know my four year old isn’t quite ready for a pocket knife.