There has been a lot of talk in the news lately about Free Range kids, CPS investigations, and allegations of neglect or abuse from their parents. While not everyone will choose to raise their children this more hands-off way, it’s important to understand that most of the parents who claim to be of this parenting philosophy are not actually neglectful or abusive parents to their children. We all make our choices as parents, for better or worse. But, just because something, at first glance, might look like neglect (or abuse) to you, doesn’t mean it is. True neglect and true abuse have no place and no footing in the free range kids movement at all.
Because, here’s the thing about free range kids’ parents – they truly love and respect their kids.
Most free range parents are educated, some very educated, and tend to be pretty involved, caring parents. They are aware of childhood development and learning. They highly value their children’s independence, capabilities, and needs. These parents access risks, dangers, and educate their children on what to do if they come across any. They are involved parents who don’t hover, or “helicopter” over their children and believe less hovering allows more freedom for their children to blossom and grow into the capable, strong, independent individuals they were meant to be. Free range parents love their children very much, and their free range kids understand that the freedom they receive is an expression of trust, respect, and love from their parents, and not because their parents are lazy or too busy to care.
Free Range Kids Aren’t Neglected or Abused
Because parents who are too busy to truly care about their children are neglectful parents. Neglectful parents (or uninvolved parents) don’t know and don’t care or worry too much about where their children are, who their children are with, when they will be home, or if they’ll come home. Neglectful parents are usually selfish and narcissistic. While they do provide the basics of food and shelter for their children, they are aloof, uninvolved in their children’s lives, and come across as unloving. They are indifferent to their children, and are emotionally unavailable. Neglectful parents forget about their children and are often late picking up them up from places. They don’t know their own children very well at all. Often neglectful parents view children as a burden, a nuisance, and not something that needs much attention. These parents usually have very few expectations for their children, if any, and don’t attend school or other events.
And parents who are otherwise abusive (and there are many ways to abuse a child) can be overly strict, demanding, controlling, pushy, overly punitive, handsy, and physical. They can lessen a child’s self-worth in countless ways. They may physically hurt their children. Many abusive parents humiliate their children, disrespect them, limit their freedom, and treat them unjustly. Abusive parents may abandon their children, leave them to “fend for themselves” before they are ready, or keep them locked outdoors for hours, in conditions that are unsafe or unfit, sometimes simply to prove a point. Abusive parents tend to shout or yell at, be aggressive toward, or bully their own children.
Neither the definition of a neglectful parent or an abusive parent fits within the context of the discussion of the free range kids parenting philosophy. Free range parents aren’t neglectful or abusive parents trying to mask their neglect or abuse by using some label. Just as at the other end of the spectrum, helicopter parents aren’t generally abusive (controlling) individuals hiding behind a label either. Abuse is abuse. Neglect is neglect.
And they need to be taken seriously when they really occur.
Because the difference between abusive and neglectful parents and free range parents is in the relationships.
Good parents, no matter what philosophical parenting practices they subscribe to, have a healthy, mutually beneficial, loving relationship with their children, even behind closed doors. Good parents, like many of these free range parents, listen to their children, adapt to their growing need for freedom and independence, and are very involved in their children’s lives.
And that is why it is almost impossible as an onlooker to know if a child left alone is simply enjoying a little freedom, or alone because their home is abusive and/or their parents are neglectful.
Don’t get caught up in appearances. Children playing or walking alone aren’t necessarily neglected or abused. That’s a pretty big assumption to make! Because you likely don’t even know these children, their parents, or their relationships, or even these children’s capabilities. You don’t know them if you never even once talked to them.
So, may I urge all people everywhere not to call the police on kids you do not know, on abuse charges you do not know actually exist. Because, while police departments and Child Protective Services often do amazingly wonderful things for our society and children, they can also destroy good, happy families, all because you feared something that didn’t actually exist. Don’t waste CPS’s time and money, and don’t stress out and put financial and emotional strain on a family for absolutely no validated reason.
If you are really concerned about a child or children in your neighborhood or classroom or church group, then keep an eye on things and the child. Maybe talk to the child and/or their parents. Try to befriend them. Ask others who know them better if there are any concerns at home. But, don’t overreact. If you feel the need, offer helpful parenting tips and suggestions to the parents, love the child in question yourself, and do your part to be a good influence in their life.
Remember, all parents are going to parent differently. But, generally speaking, the only really wrong way to parent, is to be truly abusive in some way, and threaten the life and (true) well-being of a child.
What do you think about the free-range kids movement?