Free Range Parenting: A Clear And Present Danger

Free Range Parenting: A Clear And Present Danger March 30, 2018

What is “free range parenting?” Why is it suddenly becoming so popular, and is it safe for children?

Utah’s Law

When Utah introduced the first free-range parenting law, the very first state in the nation to do that, it opened up a whole new frontier for young children, and not a good one, and one that could be more like Pandora’s Box than what we might have imagined. What is “free-range” parenting? If you’ve seen any of the old westerns, you might be familiar with the free rangers who brought in cattle to range in the open territories. Some didn’t accept the free rangers because their cattle grazed on their land, so free ranging eventually came to an end, but it’s back. No, we’re not talking about free ranging cattle but about human beings, and children at that! One example is Lenore Skenazy who let her 9-year-old ride the subway home alone by giving him a map, a MetroCard, twenty dollars, and some quarters for a pay phone call in case he needed help, but Skenazy says that it was all his idea, and her son begged her to just leave him somewhere and let him find his way back all by himself, so finally, on a spring day in 2008, Skenazy finally let him do it, allowing her 9-year-old to ride the subway home…alone. [1]. I was astounded when I read that. Letting a 9-year-old alone in New York City because he begged his mom to do it? Who is the parent here, I would ask. Why let a 9-year-old decide what’s best for them?

Clear and Present Danger

Free-range parenting is one of the most dangerous parenting styles I have ever heard about. To me, it sounds more like parental negligence. If they get lost, can you really trust a 9-year-old to know what stranger to approach and what stranger not to approach? Would you allow your own son, daughter, or grandchild to try that if they asked you? The mother said if he needed help and got lost, she “trusted him to ask a stranger. And then I even trusted that stranger not to think, ‘Gee, I was about to catch my train home, but now I think I’ll abduct this adorable child instead.’” [1]. Sorry, but I’m not about to let my 9-year-old child or grandchild decide what’s best for them and then trust society enough that they’ll help them if they need it. That’s almost asking for an exploited or kidnapped child.


I’m sure you’ve heard of open marriages. Several Hollywood couples have publically stated that they have open marriages, so I guess that means they are free to roam wherever their hormones take them, so it’s a little like a “free-range marriage.” At least it seems like it because the spouse can roam wherever they wish to find whomever they wish, and there are no commitment or fidelity issues involved, however, there could be issues after all. For example, there may be issues with things like STD’s? If you are involved with another person’s spouse or a single person and have sex with them, aren’t you really having sex with the people they’ve had sex with, and the one before that, and the one before that? You have no idea what disease that person on the “free range” might have. Since anything goes in many open marriages, anything and everything the spouse comes in contact with can be passed on to their own spouse, so free range marriages are not free. In fact, they might be very costly; STD’s or other diseases which may lead to sterility or other sexually transmitted diseases, so it’s not really free sex if it cost…in health, relationships, families, and more. If you go to bed with someone, you’re actually going to bed with all their previous partners, at least in a physical sense.

Free Ranging

I can see letting animals free range in an area where they can find food and water, but not so much with children. Free range is a farming method that allows animals to roam the range freely, without restrictions, control or confinement, and that works well for some animals, but it’s not a good way to raise children. Children, if left to themselves, and especially at a young age, don’t have the maturity to make the right choices, and there are far too many sexual predators out there for them to just range freely, at their own liking, and hope they find their way home or can call their parents if they get lost. This is not like being home alone, but about getting home alone and alive, so clearly it’s a dangerous parental trend, and it’s a mystery to me is why Social Services or Child Protective Services doesn’t get wind of this and declare it to be a dangerous practice. Where are the sociologists in this? Do they believe it’s fine or dysfunctional? If so, speak up! Why is there no public outcry? What happened to responsibility in parenting? Have “free range” parents relegated their child care to the way we take care of our pets? That is, making sure they’re fed and watered and then let them freely roam anywhere they want to? Most of us don’t even do that with our pets! Is this a dangerous precedent or not? I thought open marriages were a threat to our society, but free-range parenting? All I can say is, Wow!

Problematic Issues

I cannot believe a state (Utah) would pass a law that protects the freedom of parents who want to let their children fend for themselves in some cases. Being the first state in the nation to pass this law may mean it won’t be the last. In fact, as you have read, there have already been free-range parents, and the numbers of the free-range children will only grow now that it’s legal (at least in Utah). The Utah law specifically says, it is not a crime for parents to allow kids who display maturity and good judgment to do things like walk to school alone or play outside without supervision, however, no age limit or minimum was established, so how will parents know when their children are “ready” to range freely without restrictions and without supervision? The Bible clearly warns parents that “a child left to himself brings shame to his mother” (Prov 29:15b), so “Give me a home where the buffalo roam, and the deer and the antelope play,” but my children and grandchildren are not free to roam where the buffalo roam, and they won’t have to find their own way home. Of course, I gave them increasing responsibility as they matured, but I could not imagine letting my 9-year-old son take the subway home in any big city, not just New York City.


It wasn’t that long ago (2015) when a Maryland couple was accused of neglect for letting their two children, ages 10 and 6, walk home without adult supervision. Now, it’s legal in Utah, and other states may follow suit. If so, then we will have a new generation of young people who have been allowed to decide for themselves what is right and what is wrong, and not having the wisdom of adults, they can easily choose to trust someone whom they shouldn’t trust at all. What kind of society will we have when children make the decisions based upon what they want (begging or not), and then parents relent? Who’s the parent here?! I say, be the parent. Parents are meant to nurture, feed, provide, and protect their children into adulthood. I won’t apologize for that. I do not believe children, especially a 9-year-old boy living in New York City, should be left to find his own way home. He’s not in a position to protect himself. He doesn’t possess the maturity or wisdom necessary to know who to approach and who not to approach for help, and neither does he have the strength or ability to defend himself against an adult. In my opinion, free-range parenting is parenting at its worst…and I’d say, it comes dangerously close to criminal negligence and endangerment of a child. I know there’s a law against that…at least for now.

Article by Jack Wellman

Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren Church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is a writer at Christian Quotes and also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Teaching Children the Gospel available on Amazon.

1. “Utah’s ‘free-range parenting’ law said to be first in the nation.” Meagan Flynn. The Washington Post. March 28, 2018. (Accessed March 28, 2018).

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  • pud

    “I’d say, it comes dangerously close to criminal negligence and endangerment of a child.”

    So does “jesus camp”, “bible camps”, lying to children about things you can’t possibly know, indoctrination, intimidation with threats of eternal torment…etc etc

  • It’s dangerous to keep your kids from exploring the world. The dangers from child snatchers are miniscule. You’re telling your kids to be afraid of everything that you don’t control. Children told that danger and monstrous humans lurk just around the corner, become adults looking for someone to “Save” them and end up credulous of any crackpot that promises safety

    I was a free range kid and it was wonderful. I was more or less let loose at 3 years old. I walked around the block by myself, stopped to watch the trains go by on the CB&Q tracks. I learned to ride my sisters bike at 4 years old and rode to the next suburb over. By the time I was 10, I had ridden the train to Chicago Union Station by myself. When I was 12 I rode the train to explore Maxwell street–By the time I was 14 I had explored every forest preserve around the Chicago western suburbs. It was a wonderful way to grow up. Having limited constraints on your mobility and choice of friends while growing up makes for a complete human being

  • Growing up as a kid in the 40s and 50s this was how we lived. Call it whatever you want, my buddies and i would seek out empty lots to play baseball, no coaches, just us kids putting our resources together and playing. we would get on our bikes and pedal 10 miles to the river to fish. Our parents expected us home for dinner. During school months we walked to school and back home again. We had some adventures on the way home, unless the weather was bad, then we would hussle home. We road out bikes everywhere. Basket ball was an outdoor sport we engaged in without adult supervision. Any and all weird adults that might be round about were known by all of us kids — sure we have fights, more like wrestling matches but soon all was forgot and it would be back to fishing, baseball, or basket ball. There was no such thing as Soccer Moms and no long lines of cars dropping kids off as school, maybe school buses.
    Maybe today is different, maybe there are pedophiles on every corning, at leas the news makes that out to be the way it is. Of course if you lose a child then the first thing asked is, Where were the parents? i would not give up my childhood experiences for anything. Taking the 22 rifle down to the river or the rock quarry to shot, both my buddy and i taking our dad’s shot guns our to hunt pheasant in the surrounding farmlands and down along the river’s edge. At the age of 6 we walked to and from school, 6-12, sand lot baseball, 10-14 bicycle fishing trips, and trips to the bean yards to pick beans for school clothes. You get the picture. All of this seemed to start changing in the 70s, right after or during the Hippy generation, as it is called. Everyone, from that experience became afraid, of what they saw, or experienced and then began the putting of all the kids special, parental protection. Not saying that is bad, but we still hear of bad things happening. As the population grows the dangers do increase, so maybe all of the parental over site is needed — then we look at giving the kids, cell phones and look where that has gone — abduction by Cell/social media and more. Free ranging the internet may be responsible for more abductions than kids playing in their front yard. It certainly has not stopped the bullying, maybe even increased that side of life — more child suicides, etc. There is certainly a time you have to let your kids free range, or live for themselves — otherwise they will never move out –ha, ha, ha, a joke, I think.

  • tovlogos

    Excellent article as usual, Jack — the same applies to the world having gone spiritually free range after having rejected the Messiah.
    Yet, for an interval of time, people have the “democratic” choice to take the direction that appeals to them.
    Look at the result of this phenomenon after 2000 years — look at us.
    The prince of this world is only too anxious to exploit human naivete, rebelling day and night until time is up.
    We, however can cry out to God when lost.

  • Chad Fleck

    Well, I was hoping for a little more Biblical direction in this article. This mostly struck me as
    an anecdotal diatribe.

    One Biblical story comes to mind. How could it have been that Joseph and Mary left Jesus when he was 12, unattended…for days? Obviously, this isn’t a prescriptive story. It’s simply descriptive of the time and culture that much of human history has followed along. I still very much hope to find some more Biblical Direction on this topic. I really appreciate the free-range concept, but I’m pretty alone in my circles in that thinking. Some council would be ideal.

  • Women are people

    Good lord. You are beyond paranoid. A 9 year old is fully capable of walking to school alone, and many did this at the age of 6.

    Your child has a better probability of getting hit by lightning than they do from stranger abduction.

    Infantiling your child, as if they can do nothing by themselves without you is your irrational fear talking. And child neglect? What is neglect is not preparing your child to navigate the world, which includes learning to navigate dangers.

    It’s not free range parenting. It’s just parenting, and this is the childhood YOU had. You walked to school (or walked to the bus stop by yourself). You didn’t have a cell phone, and you learned how to ride your bike places and how to get back home. On your own. Most kids stayed out until the street lights came on, with our parents aware of what general area you were in, but did not know *exactly* where you were at any given time.

    You picked wild berries, fished crawfish from the creek or sunfish from the pond. You played baseball with your friends, or tag with the neighborhood kids and there was no adult watching over you.

    So get a damn grip.

    • Jack Wellman

      I think free ranging is good for chickens or cows,but children? I am just glad you’re not watching any of my grandchildren.

      • Women are people

        So you’d rather keep children in cages?

        Under your paradigm, I’m glad you aren’t watching my kid either. Because you are a stranger and *gasp* a male so you must be a pedophile, right? Aren’t all men pedophiles and therefore instead of locking the pedophiles up -we’ll just lock up the kids?

        Again, you have infantilied children to the point that you don’t seem to remember that “back in [your] day”, 9 year olds were responsible for looking after their siblings all by themselves without a parent around. Yet you think that same 9 year old can’t manage to figure out which subway line to get on.

        • Jack Wellman

          I’d rather keep children safe in the yard or under supervision of adults. Thank you for your comment but again, glad you are not a babysitter in our neighborhood.

          • Women are people

            And that is your choice to keep your kids fenced in like the dog. Other people who want to treat their kids like human beings, teach them how to manage risk by letting them do for themselves, or let them play without someone constantly hovering, are ALSO free to do so as is *their* choice.

            Just because someone makes a different choice than you is NOT neglect or child endangerment.

            Lenore’s son asked for this independence. She isn’t letting him decide. After careful consideration with her husband, the ADULTS decided that he was ready and let him.

            When my son is old enough to ride his bike, I too will allow him to go down to the convenient store three blocks away to get candy/soda/snacks if he wants. That is my choice as a parent to teach my son rather than hover.

            My son is 11 months old now. We did not baby-proof our entire house because: 1) you cannot eliminate all risk; and 2) children cannot learn without risk.

            So while we don’t let him stick anything into light sockets, we do allow him to pinch his fingers in drawers, or climb up onto boxes, knowing that he will most likely fall. Guess what? After falling a few times, he learned. After pinching his fingers, he learned. Now he lifts his fingers out of the way when he closes drawers.

            You’re glad I’m not the neighborhood babysitter? Good god, I’m 40 years old, and far too old to “babysit” like some teenager. Your condescending attitude is not very Christlike, so save it, Grandpa.

            On the flip side, I grew up with a girl whose mother was a lot like you. Nervous about letting the girl have any damn independence that she had none. Lol. I remember one time, when she was 15, her friend had just turned 16 and as her sweet 16 present, her friend’s mom had bought her 10 tickets for whatever boy band concert was popular at the time, and rented a limo to take the girls up. The birthday girl’s mother would be there, but would drive up separately so the girls could enjoy their limo ride without an adult putting a damper on whatever the frick 16 year old girls talk about. My friend’s mom wouldn’t let her go….because she didn’t know the limo driver. What the heck did she think was going to happen? That the limo driver would pull off the highway, rape her while 9 of her 16 year old friend’s just sat by and watched? That kind of paranoia is not only unhealthy, but it’s unhealthy to project onto your daughter. To either make her fearful of every person and everything, or to make her resentful of parental constant hovering (it’s not your child’s job to ease your anxiety).

            Guess what happened to this girl when she grew up? She went to college, and went ballistic when her mother could no longer hover. She engaged in downright dangerous behaviors because 1) she had not learned how to manage risk; 2) she was craving the excitement of the danger. So good job, friend’s mom, you utterly failed to teach your daughter how to navigate the world as an adult because you treated your child like an infant.

  • john piccklberg

    i must say sir, i myself is a country kid originally from England, and growing up in the wild australian outback certainly provided me with a healthy understanding and respect for all things naturalistic. you know how free range eggs feel? well, i feel as though i am one with the eggs. i like tothink of myself as a chickens son. i am in grade 10 and you have helped me alot. thankyou kind sir for your generosity, and contributions to this article.

    (ps, we see you a lot on this website page and am a biggggg fan of your commentrary on the several articles i have veiwed)