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How free should 'free range' children be?

5:22 PM, Aug 22, 2012   |    comments
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"You don't wake up one morning and go, 'alright my kid is 8, go to the park, ride the subway,'" Bree Ervin said. "It is a process that you build up to."

Their two daughters, 6-year-old A.J. and 8-year-old Cody, began that process by being allowed to walk from their home to a park a block away and then turning around and coming home. Eventually they were allowed to stay for 20 minutes, but then had to return home to check in.

"You give them a little bit of leash and you see how they do with it," Bree said. "Then you give them a little more if they do well, and if they don't you pull it back. It is really about trusting your kids and talking to them and letting them express themselves and letting them experiment and fall and sometimes get hurt and learn how to pick themselves back up."

"I like the analogy of testing the water, of learning how to swim," Zach Ervin said. "We didn't throw our children into the deep end yesterday. We have always put them in up to their necks and we've always been right there to help them if they went under."
The term "free range parenting" was first used by Lenore Skenazy, a New York City resident.

"Four years ago, my younger son was 9 and he wanted to ride the subway by himself," Skenazy said. "He was asking me and my husband if he could do it. We let him. We ended up castigated. We, I, ended up in the media being told I was crazy and awful and America's worst mom for letting him do that."

Skenazy created a website to teach others about the concept of "free range parenting." She has spoken at conferences throughout the country and internationally on the subject.

"A free range parent is not in the grips of the terror that, I hate to say it, the media is often foisting upon us and that allows us to let our kids actually have some adventures and some freedom and some independence," Skenazy said.

"I have a lot of caution and a lot of concerns about it," says Dr. Larry Curry, an expert in child development and a family therapist. "I think there is a misconception that bad things don't happen outside of the metropolitan area. They happen everywhere, in rural communities, in urban settings, suburbs. It happens everywhere. Kids are victimized. They are prime targets and they need our protection."

Dr. Curry agrees that all children are different and some may be ready for additional freedoms earlier than others. He believes, in general, children under the age of 10 need adult supervision.

"Ultimately it is the parent's responsibility to use good judgment, good safeguarding of their children and not giving them too much in terms of putting them in harm's way," Dr. Curry said.

Lenore Skenazy believes parents need to get past their own fears when determining what is appropriate for their child.

"I'd say too free is something that puts them in actual danger, not just what makes you feel a little nervous," Skenazy said. "We all feel a little nervous when we first send our kids walking off to school or send them on overnight camp or whatever. But actually those things are not dangerous."

While "free range parenting" targets the growth of their children through increased freedoms, the opposite is referred to as "helicopter parenting," where children are hovered over by parents.

"I'm not a strong advocate for parents who overprotect their children," Dr. Curry said. "I think you do need to pull back a little bit, but there has to be some place between pulling back a little bit and just total freedom."

(KUSA-TV © 2012 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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