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Radical Parenting: Free Ranging

For parents who live in big cities this parenting style will probably seem the most terrifying. Columnist Lenore Skenazy, an advocate for free range parenting and writer for the New York Sun, let her 9-year-old son ride the New York City subway alone. Sounds crazy, irresponsible maybe, but more and more parents are realizing that giving children freedom has some incredible rewards.

“When you let children out, all the good things happen – the self-confidence, happiness, and self-sufficiency that come from letting our kids do some things on their own,” Skenazy says. These are some of the valuable sills I learned because I was allowed free range to investigate the world around me. There was a time when letting young children walk to school alone, ride their bikes around the neighborhood unsupervised, and hang out in the park didn’t seem like irresponsible parenting. Is the world simply more unsafe? Or have parents just become more fearful?

Back in the 80s, somewhere in the mountains of California, my parents had a summer house that our family had inherited and when I was growing up I would spend many long weekends there wandering around alone for hours. I remember being a pre-teen and having absolute freedom to explore even the furthest parts of the mountainous, wilderness city where our summer home was located. I would talk to strangers, climb dangerous rock formations, and catch frogs near a raging river. Cell phones were still rather new, so I didn’t have one, and I never wore watches back then, so I had no concept of time. Somehow, no matter how far I roamed or how lost I felt I had become, I knew exactly how to get back to my street before the street lights came on. Not to brag or anything, but that’s probably why I am now an adventurous, highly social, individual who seeks out challenges and doesn’t scare too easily. I can also literally feel which direction is north, have great spacial memory, and hardly ever need to use my navigational system while driving.

Nowadays kids don’t have much free time. They are too bogged down with homework, academic projects, monitored after-school programs, and supervised sport activities. Everything detail about their day is carefully planned out. Take for example, the new family that recently moved into the neighborhood I grew up in. They have two, maybe three, school-aged children, and they are only allowed to play in the gated front yard of their home. They look more like caged puppies than children and sometimes, as I’m passing their house on weekends, I want to unlock the gate and set them free.

Even if you aren’t comfortable letting your child wander around the city alone, as a general rule of thumb, it’s good for parents to love their children unconditionally. But should all punishment be abolished?


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