Free Range or Helicopter Parent

Over the last few weeks, I’ve read a lot of opinions about “free range” vs. “helicopter” parenting. The issue is not a new one, but people are talking about a recent story about two young children who were picked up by the police because they were walking home “unsupervised” from a park about a mile from their home.

This topic came up on a recent episode of Real Time and I think it was Bill or Dave Barry who said his parents used to say…

Go outside and play. Be back by September.

Much of the discussion about this online has been similar. Most of the people I read seem to think that kind of approach made us more independent and resilient.

I watched part of a video a while back and Dr. Stanley Feld told a wonderful story about how he and his buddies travelled out to Yankee Stadium every day during the summer and waited outside unitl some group of businesemen going in for a day game would invite them in to watch from their box. It’s hard to imagine anything like that happening today.

My parents were what I would call very, very protective of us. Not quite overbearing, but almost. Still, I remember getting on my bike at nine years old and riding around for hours with my friends. We rode up and down - and accross - a major highway that ran in and out of Atlantic City, and most days probably covered three or four square miles in a city that many adults were afraid to even drive their cars through.

Never an incident.

I remember thinking of that when my son started riding his bike around the neighborhood. The idea of letting him wander around the neighborhood scared me a little. I didn’t even think of letting him wander off even further.

Some of that, to be sure, is my X-Files approach to everything. I trust no one. The fear mongering on the news is another factor, I’m sure. But I can’t help think about something I wrote recently about risk.

Certainly, the odds are with you. Your children will probably be fine. But sometimes the risk factor needs to be weighed against the potential downside.

We tried to do the best we could with our children, and I certainly don’t think we were “helicopters,” but we didn’t let them wander the streets until September either.

Letting them walk home from the park a mile away - together - is probably something we would have done ( depends on the neighborhood and traffic patterns ), and we certainly would have been extremely angry if someone had called the police on us.