Dooger rants about free range parenting

Utah recently passed a free-range parenting law.  When the law passed, it was the first time that I heard the term “free-range parenting”.  Even though I had never heard the term, I am familiar with the concept.  When I was young, my parents allowed me to walk the railroad tracks a mile to my best friends house.  While there, we played football with no protective gear.  Some days, instead of walking, I rode my bicycle on the curvy country road with no helmet.  In the winter, we would brave the frigid cold to go sledding on hills that had barbed wire fences at the bottom.  My sister even once persuaded me to eat mud pies.  How did kids of my generation survive such perils?

Fast forward to the present day, and my own parenting style.  We have a quote on our wall from “Where Main Street Meets the River” written by Hodding Carter in 1953.  In the book, he says “A wise woman once said to me that there are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children.  One of these she said is roots, the other, wings.  And they can only be grown, these roots and these wings, in the home.”  I am a firm believer that we need to teach our young children to make good decisions.  If we do so, we can safely give them the freedom to explore the wonderful world they live in.  The problem I have with laws such as this is that there is no one size fits all solution.  There are many parents that give their kids wings without first growing roots.

My kids are less free-range than I was at their age, but our circumstances are much different.  I started growing roots at a very young age.  We adopted our children from the foster system.   Many kids from that background have little supervision or parental guidance before being placed in foster care.  They raise themselves while mom and dad smoke crack.  While most parents that buy into the free-range style of parenting do not simply turn their children out into the world without teaching them to be safe, we need to realize that there are some who truly are negligent and place their kids in dangerous situations.

Kids do need the freedom to learn and explore on their own, but only after responsible parents have taught them how to be safe.  My boy’s scout leader says that little mistakes have little consequences, and we need to allow the boys to make little mistakes in a safe environment.  Doing so helps them grow and learn not to make bigger mistakes that could have life-altering consequences.  I think that laws written to give more freedom to parents are good as long as those laws also account for situations where child safety is truly in jeopardy.

In 2003, the Supreme Court in my home state of Ohio commissioned a subcommittee to study child abuse and neglect.  In 2006, the subcommittee released its report.   The recommendation was to change child welfare case management at the point of screening and intake.  The committee proposed laws be more child-centric instead of focusing on the punishment of the negligent parents.  Basically, Children’s Services would focus on kids and rely on law enforcement to deal with negligent and abusive parents.  Representatives Pillich and Belcher presented House Bill 371 in 2009.  Unfortunately, the bill did not pass, but the ideas behind the Children in need of Protective Services (CHIPS) study are still alive and being considered by Ohio legislators.

There is so much for kids to learn by exploring God’s great big world.  Parents should demonstrate safe habits while exploring together with their young children.  The more time parents spend planting roots, the more their kids will be able to safely explore as they grow older.  The real tragedy is when parents use the free-range parenting as an alternative to spending time mentoring their offspring.  While my mom and dad practiced free-range parenting, they also spent an extraordinary amount of time with us when we were young.  Mom did not work outside of the home.  Dad was a mechanic and was never too busy to allow me to tag along to the shop with him.  In short, we were their priority when we were young.  Because of that, we were equipped to make good decisions when we were old enough to roam without direct supervision.

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