By: Panicha McGuire, LMFT
Free range parenting has been around for a long time, but recently has just caused a stir in the parenting world. In sum, free range parenting is the concept of raising children with unsupervised time. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you won’t ever watch your children, but it means to not live in constant fear that something terrible will happen to them if you are not there. In your own childhood, your parent’s childhood, or even your grandparent’s childhood you may recall going to the store unattended, walking to your neighbor’s house alone three blocks down the street, taking public transportation alone, or walking home from school with your school friends. I’ve come to realize that parents are more afraid for their children than ever.
But, it’s much more dangerous nowadays! Well, yes, and also no. We do have to be aware of things like online predators or media exposure, but remember we live in a culture that is also hyperaware. Everyday there is a story of abductions or missing children. It’s absolutely terrifying and if we see these stories in the media every day, it can feel like these situations happen all the time. And the next time you’re thinking if your child is safe walking over to their friend’s house, you think of these stories that you have seen on the news. We start to lose perspective of real dangers. We also live in a culture where parents are shamed if they let their child play in the backyard unsupervised because they aren’t “playing with their kid” or “aren’t using this time for something productive”. It’s also the same culture that invented child GPS watches and monitoring systems. If you’re into Black Mirroron Netflix, I recommend watching the Arkangel episode (disclaimer: this is dark).
I remember growing up and playing unsupervised in the backyard of our home. I was told to not play close to the plants and watch out for the cactus (but what 7-year-old listens). Lo and behold, I had played too close to the cactus, fell on it, and got spikes all over my back which my grandpa had to help pull out with tweezers. But did I play near the plants again? Nope! Now this cactus story sounds less scary than letting your child ride the bus alone from school because it was contained in the backyard of my home. Although, I did do that too! I rode the metro home every day starting in 6thgrade after my mother had rode it with me enough times for me to get how it works. But I was also prepped with emergency cash and directions on what to do when I’m in real danger. And then I would stay home alone to do homework and play in the neighborhood until they would come home from work during dinner.
So, should you just let your child roam free now? Not really, at least not yet. Especially when they haven’t been preparing for this. Free-range parenting has its praises and criticisms, but this article is more about your parenting instincts. You will know what your child is capable of doing, and letting them do it on their own will give them the challenge they need to grow. Letting your child do something unsupervised comes with patience and training. As a parent, you knew when your child was ready to cross the street without holding their hand because you knew you could trust them to look both ways. You coached them enough for them to be able to make a wise decision. One day, you decided you could let go of their hand because you noticed they were looking both ways. Everyone has an opinion on “how to parent”. You’ll always have someone giving their opinion on whether you’re letting your child walk too far away from you, or leaving them home alone (although, do check state laws on this one!). But the truth is not all families are the same, and all children have different temperaments and personalities, and so do their parents. You have to do what works for you and your child. And remember that it is okay for them to fail and learn from their own mistakes. You’re not a bad parent for doing so. It actually teaches them more independence and fosters their growth.
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