Monday, August 24, 2009

Free-Range Parenting

Striking a balance between too much freedom and too much control is a difficult task for parents. There are physical boundaries to think about. And there is the issue of nutrition and eating habits. Another one parents need to ponder is TV viewing or the use of electronic gadgets. Then there are always the worries about choosing friends, playing sports, and academic performance. Just where do you draw the line between too much parental control and too little? Recently, I heard an interesting debate on a talk show about “free-range” parenting. One woman maintained that children today are raised with entirely too many limitations on their time and space, and parents basically need to lighten up and let go earlier and farther. She shared her experience of giving her nine year-old son a New York City subway pass and a little money with the instructions to find his way home. He did this successfully, and this has fueled her passion for this not-really-so-new parenting approach. Her opponent, if you will, was quick to point out the most recent statistics on crimes committed against children to which the other mother noted that the data is not significantly different than it was when they were kids. What is different, she said was the media hype that breaks out when these crimes do occur. As such, a child abduction in Iowa makes people in New Jersey feel as if the crime happened right down the street. Ultimately, the two came to a definition of free-range parenting they could both live with, at least for the purpose of the show. Free-range parenting was clarified as not being about turning kids loose without boundaries or rules. Rather, it is about re-thinking the way we are currently over-scheduling, over-monitoring, and hovering about our children to the point that it stifles their creativity and development.

I can live with that definition, too, but then it seems like the phrase “free-range parenting” is moot, and we are simply talking about effective parenting. One doles out privileges as children demonstrate responsibility. Only a parent knows his or her child and what he or she is capable of based on their maturity, personality, and the environment.

There is no right or wrong about this one, but there are is some research that supports the need for parental supervision even throughout the teen years. The young brain is not yet capable of making sound judgment. As such when young people are left to their own devices for extended periods of time without adult oversight, they are capable of making bad choices. While our communities may not be as unsafe as the media portrays them to be, the thinking process of a growing child is still under construction and in need of a foreman.

1 comment:

Fran said...

Hi Denise,
I love the title! And you discussion was great too - kept me reading until the end.