March 11th, 2015

A Maryland couple who was being investigated for allowing their two children to walk home alone from a neighborhood park have been “found responsible for unsubstantiated child neglect” by the state’s Child Protective Services. ABC News, ‘Free Range’ Parents Found Responsible for Child Neglect After Allowing Kids to Walk Home Alone, By Candace Smith and Lauren Efron, 3/3/2015

15945856_sFirst we heard about “helicopter parents” — those parents who “hover” around their children to protect them from the dangers of growing up. Now we hear about “free range” parents. The complete opposite of helicopter parents, these parents believe that their children must experience life to learn its valuable lessons.

There are more and more stories in the news every day analyzing parenting styles – too protective or too lax. When it comes to “free range” parenting it is a little harder to understand the underlying reasons why a parent might want to give their child more responsibility than might seem appropriate for the child’s age, because we hear so many stories of children being hurt, abducted and so on.

I think when it comes to this parenting style there is an over-play of publicity that does not have a lot of facts to substantiate the hype. The important piece of “free range” parenting is to make sure that parents train their child, educate them, and know what level of responsibility the child truly can handle. Freedom has to be partnered with the ability to be responsible.

In the case of Danielle and Alexander Meitiv they believe that the best way to raise children is to give them the freedom to play, walk and explore without parental supervision – much how they were both raised.

In an interview today with WBUR Radio’s “Here & Now” Danielle said, “We’re just doing what our parents did and their parents did and that’s letting children have some freedom and independence in their local neighborhood. So far they’ve gone about a mile, that’s the area we’ve shown them and taught them about, but as they get older they can go a little further on their bikes, but for now it’s within a few blocks to a mile from our house.”

Her husband added, “This is child-directed. They ask for more independence and we evaluate whether they’re ready for that level of independence. First, we train them. We train them to cross streets, we tell them how to avoid dangers and when we judge that they’re ready for that level of independence we give it to them.”

I want to emphasize that each family has do what is right for them based on their knowledge of their child. It seems that the Meitiv’s were working on doing just that. There are no hard and fast rules for “free range” parenting or parenting, in general. If children came with directions, it would be easier, but they don’t. They come with something better – loving parents who want the best for their children. It would be presumptuous for us to judge these parents for choosing this parenting style and for us to recommend universal practices for parenting.

Here is a link to the WBUR interview. Make sure to check out the comments.

This blog is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended as medical or psychiatric advice for individual conditions or treatment and does not substitute for a medical or psychiatric examination. A psychiatrist must make a determination about any treatment or prescription. Dr. Paul does not assume any responsibility or risk for the use of any information contained within this blog.