Free Range vs. Helicopter Parenting
The biggest debate in the parenting world today
centers around two schools of thought: free range parenting vs. helicopter
parenting. These are more than just dominant parenting trends: they can affect
the social, and even legal standing of your family. What’s this generation’s
fiercest parenting battle actually about? Our latest blog post weighs in on
both parenting techniques.
The Free Range Approach
Free Range parenting is an idea put forth in the
2010 book by Lenore Skenazy, Free-Range
Kids, How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry),
though the ideas it presents are arguably much older. Free range parenting is
about giving kids room to grow, learn, and make mistakes. Parents who prescribe
to this way of thinking are comfortable letting their kids go to the store or walk
to school without supervision, aren’t quick to butt in if their child has an
issue with a peer or teacher, and give their kids a lot of space.
Free Range Controversy
The idea has faced its share of controversy: an
unlucky few free range parents have faced legal trouble. Moms in Florida,
Colorado, and elsewhere have faced repercussions from child services simply for
letting their kids play in the park while they were at home or work. In all
cases, both parent and child had cellphones to keep in contact. In one
particularly unfortunate incident, a mom spent two years getting her kids (ages
5 – 10) back after leaving them alone at home for about 2 hours. Supporters of
free range parenting are quick to point out that a poor, single mom is perceived
as breaking the law when she lets her kids go free range, while rich parents
haven’t yet faced such scrutiny.
What are the Free Range parents after?
In short they want independent, resilient kids they can trust. They believe the only way a child can develop a unique self is away from the watchful eye of mom and dad.
Fatal accidents and crimes involving kids are the lowest they have been in
decades – proof to free range parents that the world is safe for their kids to
So what do the so-called helicopter parents say
about all this? For one, they prefer the term “involved parents.” They see
looking out for their child’s every need as a natural part of the parental
role. These are parents who are highly involved in scheduling their children’s
daily routines. They avoid any unsupervised time and aren’t afraid to
micromanage the lives of their children.
Both sides bolster their arguments with ‘scientific
data,’ but hard data can be hard to pin down when it comes to parenting styles.
Free rangers say their kids grow up with a more fully formed self, are able to
more easily bounce back from hardships and setbacks, and are less risk averse.
Helicopter kids tend to do better in college, stay closer with their parents as
they age, and lead more responsible lives (or so they say).
The Education Factor
Some blame the competitive nature of education for
the rise of the helicopter parent. With increasing reliance on standardized
tests and pressure to enter a good college starting at grade school, many
parents feel involvement is the only way to ensure success, especially in a
public school system that fails so many children.
Which style should you chose?
How parents choose between the two styles ultimately
rests on personal perceptions and values, but how a parent was brought up often
bears an influence on which parenting style they favor now that they’re in the
parenting role. Many parents say their youth was spent with a level of freedom
that in this age would be considered criminal, and yet today they are
successful, happy, and caring adults. Conversely, many parents say they saw too
many of their peers die early deaths from accidents, drift into drugs and crime
due to lack of parental involvement, or otherwise suffer due to the free range
style of an earlier generation of American parents. Children growing up prior
to the 1980s spent a lot less time with their parents, or any adults, and a lot
more time with just peers. This is another area where social and economic issue
intersect. If you live in an expensive, low-crime area, the idea of your kids
on the streets is much less scary then it is to someone contending with a
Ultimately, both parenting styles have their flaws and require a large margin of judgment from parents; every kid is different, and one-size-fits-all approaches rarely deliver what they promise. Instead of picking sides, find the right level of involvement for your kids. Shy kids may need mom and dad’s help arranging playdates and making friends. Other kids may need some micromanagement to excel in school, but are perfectly happy to be left with hours of free time to make their own fun. The most successful parents, it would seem, know when to helicopter and when to let their kids run free.
No matter what your parenting style, Cookie’s Kids
has you covered on school uniforms, children’s furniture and more!