In a recent incident, Child Protective Services briefly took a 6-year-old and a 10-year old from a Maryland family after they were found walking by themselves. This sparked debate over the practice of free-range parenting. In free-range households, children are allowed to roam about as they please and figure out their problems alone. This method of parenting developed as a counterpart to helicopter parenting, where parents hover around their children and help them with everyday tasks. Free-range parenting amounts to parents allowing their children to gain independence by gradually doing more and more on their own. Critics of free-range parenting argue that it is not safe for children and that children should be monitored more closely. This is a valid concern, but when free-range parenting is implemented correctly it allows children to learn responsibility and grow as individuals.
Danielle and Alexander Meitiv, the parents involved in the Maryland debate, seem to have a pretty reasonable philosophy on why they raise their children the way that they do. The children are allowed to progressively test limits, mainly by walking to places within a mile of their home. It is supposed to teach self-reliance, responsibility and how to make choices for themselves, according to The Washington Post. The Meitiv family’s end goals are what most parents want their children to become: self-reliant, responsible decision-makers. The parents on either side of the debate want the same things, but they want to achieve them differently, and that’s what is causing a divide.
Different parenting philosophies are necessary in our society, as it helps to create a new generation of varied individuals. However, parents must be aware of the local laws and recognize that it may impact how they want to raise their children. The Meitiv family has failed to adhere to Maryland law. In Maryland, a child under the age of eight must be accompanied by someone who is at least thirteen, according to Child Protective Services. The Meitiv parents were legally neglecting the children. While it is understandable that the Meitiv family wants to raise their children in their own way, they must adhere to the law.
The Meitiv family needs to accept the legal trouble that they brought on themselves, as what they did is considered child neglect in Maryland. Simply disobeying legislation because one disagrees with it and then being surprised that there are consequences is illogical. If the Meitiv family, or others who wish to free-range parent, disagree with the legislation in their state, then they should attempt to change the legislation, accept it as it is, or move. They can move to one of many states, including Florida, that do not set an age for unmonitored children, according to NPR.
Free-range parents, in states that do not have legislation that interferes with the technique, must still weigh the benefits of this parenting style against the hazards. There is always the possibility that their children could injure themselves while unsupervised or be the victim of a kidnapping. Free-range parenting can be a perfectly sound parenting technique so long as the parents help their children understand the risks and what to do if something bad happens while unsupervised. Parents are also responsible to instruct their children on the dangers of their local environment, from a busy road to an area gang. Parents could possibly send their children out with walkie talkies so that they can check in without drastically interfering in the children’s experiential learning. Ultimately, free-range parenting should be different than not parenting.
In most states, free-range parenting and child neglect do not have to go hand-in-hand. Parents who want free-range children need to prepare their children for their experiences, even if they won’t be out there with them. However, if free-range parents live in one of fifteen states that has age laws for unsupervised children then these laws should not be overlooked.
Becca Turner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org