BOSTON (CBS) – How much freedom should we give our kids and when? One family’s struggle with this topic is now grabbing national headlines and it’s even earned a name: “Free-Range Parenting.” It’s the exact opposite of helicopter parenting where kids are constantly under the watchful eyes of mom and dad.
To get a closer look at this parenting style we spent one sunny spring morning in Framingham with the Flood Family. We watched as Emma, 12, Leah, 10, and Myles, 7 happily ran around their yard, played tennis, relaxed in their hammock, and cleaned up their toys. All on their own, no hovering parents in sight. “We let them … decide their own passions without us constantly hovering over them telling them what to do,” says their mom Anouk Flood.
So-called “Free Range Parents” let their kids enjoy certain freedoms that other parents may see as unsafe, like playing on their own or taking long walks. “I don’t think it should even be an issue,” says Anouk, “I think it should be the way. That’s how we were all raised, right? It has gone completely the other way and I think it should come back to the way it was.”
The Floods tell us that they’d love to give their kids even more independence but they are deliberately holding back. “I think twice — not because I’m afraid that something is going to happen to her or someone is going to take her — because I’m afraid that somebody else is going to call the police and say ‘Hey, I saw a 12-year-old walking all alone.'” Their dad, Jay, also worries “Our big fear really is… is someone going to call the cops on us for being bad parents.”
And those fears are real for the Meitiv family of Baltimore who have ignited this national debate over how we raise our kids. The couple is under state supervision for allowing their 10-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter to walk alone to the playground one mile from their home. “So, for us, walking a mile to the park was clearly within what they were capable of,” explains Danielle Meitiv. “We are being intimidated into changing what we believe is right for our children.”
The kids have now been picked up by police twice. “I think we focus so much on the risks of giving children freedom and we ignore the risks of not giving them freedom,” says Meitiv.
“Every kid is different and every parent is different,” says Dr. Danny Mendoza, head of psychiatric services at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in Plymouth.
Mendoza says it’s important to know what your own kid can handle. “There is no one formula to calculate how far away or how much distance you’re going to put between yourself and your kid,” he says. “It’s all about critical thinking and common sense.”
Jay and Anouk combine strict rules about bedtime and chores with tons of free play. “You can’t protect them forever,” says Jay. “You need to watch them until you’re sure they can make those decisions but you need to let them make those decisions. If you trust your kid they’re going to surprise at how responsible they are.”