What is “free range parenting?” Why is it suddenly becoming so popular, and is it safe for children?
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. . 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.’” . 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.
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!
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. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2018/03/28/utahs-free-range-parenting-law-said-to-be-first-in-the-nation/?utm_term=.07343b68ae37 (Accessed March 28, 2018).