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Free Range Parenting?

So the other morning I was watching Good Morning America and a segment came on about “free range parenting.”

What?

I always thought that the term “free range” was in regards to meat in a grocery store not parenting. So, the term “free range” is defined by Wikipedia:  to allow animals to roam freely instead of being contained in any manner.

I am assuming that free range parenting refers to the same definition but swapping children in for animals, thus meaning to all children to exist freely without being contained in any manner.

Hmmm….this is an interesting topic for me. I really do believe in letting my almost two-year old explore nature, paint, food, etc; however, in order for me to stay sane and for my little dude to stay safe on a daily basis we do have some rules and discipline in our household.

For example: since my little guy was born I have been dreading these words “Time Out!”Even though my little dude is sleeping, just typing the words makes me cringe. What is it? Is it the thought of him really being mad at me while I force him to sit down? Is it that it breaks my heart when he puts on the “sad face?” While I sit here and ponder these ideas, I hear Dr. Phil in the background and it seems to snap me right back into reality. You are probably going huh? Let me explain. I have seen enough Dr. Phil episodes about children who have gone amuck in there adult years. Most parents are shaking their heads and saying they don’t know where they went wrong. Some of the parents can’t figure out why their kid yells at the them the way they do and why they are taken advantage of.

I am certainly not here to say that I “know” more than them but I can certainly see where disciplining now will *hopefully* pay off later. But, sometimes I wonder –  Am I doing too much? Too Soon? I worry that without any rules in our house, water would be spilled everywhere, we would paint all the walls in the house, be unable to share with other kids, hit and most importantly have a power struggle within our home. In short, this segment on “free range parenting” has me thinking about if I am prohibiting my little guy from gaining more “street smarts” or learn.  But, it seems that no matter which way you “choose” to parent – helicopter or free range, there is always a study or term to let you know that you, yes you, are doing it wrong. So Mamas…weigh in…

Thoughts on free range parenting? Is free range parenting a backlash to helicopter parenting? Best ways to disciplining toddlers? Exploratory learning? 

Meet the Author | Veena


Veena is a former Miss California as well as 4th runner-up to Miss America. Pre-baby, Veena worked in the non-profit field specializing in Special Events and Development/Fundraising as well as a Program Officer for a family foundation. Now as a mom of a 2 year old, she spends her time running after her little one as well as branding and marketing consultant. Veena and her husband and son enjoy hiking, camping and traveling. She resides in Walnut Creek, California with her husband Ryan, son Eddie and their 3 dogs.

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5 Comments
  • Jenny
    October 4, 2012

    Another angle on this, from the perspective of seeing certain young adults struggle in the workplace, is that you want your child to be able to cope with the inevitable rules and discipline that he will encounter in the real world. Does a parent need to be draconian, no, but I think a child needs experience with rule systems in order to maximize their opportunities later in life. Just my opinion.

  • October 4, 2012

    It really is important, like Jenny said. I have a nephew who was allowed to run the house, and he called the shots. He was, for the most part, a terror. My sister in law would throw up her hands and say she tried everything, but she didn’t. She didn’t know how to parent, except for screaming.

    As he got older, he had such crippling anxiety, and dreaded going to school, getting on the bus, going to a birthday party. My sister-in-law finally went to see a family therapist, and learned that the anxiety is coming from him not knowing how to behave in those situations. He knows his behavior is wrong, but can’t figure out what is correct, and therefore he dreads being in that situation. It was heartbreaking to see.
    They finally instilled some structure, and it helped. It didn’t fix it all, as he is now a pre-teen and still has anxiety over not doing his homework properly, does he have the right assignment, is everything in its place? It’s not good.

  • October 9, 2012

    I’m actually a free range parent, and as it turns out, your assumptions about what free range is, aren’t accurate.

    It’s not about letting your child run amok, or not disciplining them, it’s actually about encouraging more appropriate responsibilities in older children and less parental helicoptering.

    It started with Lenore Skenazy, who was vilified when she allowed her 9 year old son to ride the subway alone in New York. If her child had the sense and smarts to be able to navigate his world, then why not?

    The point is that we are coddling children TOO much, and not allowing them to grow with challenges, including more responsibilities and character-building chances. That’s why I will allow my kids to walk BY THEMSELVES to their school bus. They can just play in the neighborhood without arranged play dates. They can explore, all while understanding their boundaries and learning about their world.

    When we don’t trust 12-year-olds to watch their siblings, or to run simple errands for parents, we’re hampering their ability to learn and understand consequences. When a mother gets a call from child welfare because their 10 year old children were playing unaccompanied at a park, that’s crazy. Our sense of what’s dangerous is completely out of proportion to what’s good for our children. Our kids have never been safer, but so many parents are in a panic.

    Anyway, I recommend you check out Lenore’s site Free Range Kids, because it might just change your mind.

  • October 10, 2012

    Thank you Sharon and Carina for your thoughtful comments. I think every parent has the right to set their own boundaries and discipline for their children. Every child is different and so sometimes even parenting kids in the same family is very different. I actually dislike the term “free range” when describing this type of parenting. It has a negative ring to it. Most of the time this type of parenting is actually keeping kids to be self sufficient and to think on their own. My only goal is to help create strong, independent children.

  • Veena Author
    October 10, 2012

    Thank you ladies for all of your comments and stories. I will most definitely check out the site you recommended Carina. I do want to learn more about the term “free range,” as I had not heard of the term until the GMA story. I do agree with Andrea, the term has a negative ring to it and does not seem to accurately describe the parenting style. Would love to hear more from more mamas and women.

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