I Want to Raise Free-Range Children

04/27/2015 02:13 pm ET | Updated Jun 27, 2015
Toni Hammer

News stories about free-range parenting have probably popped up in your Facebook feed lately. People are either outraged by the incident occurring or outraged that there was even an incident to be outraged about. The Meitiv family of Maryland seems to be getting the most press, as they've been investigated twice about their parenting style.

I won't discuss how their specific situation was handled, but I do want to give my thoughts on the matter of free range parenting in general.

I'll be honest: The idea of allowing my kids to walk home from a park when they're 10 years old scares me a bit. That being said, the idea of my kids going to school scares me. The very idea of not being in control of my kids, or knowing everything that's happening if they're not in my care, frightens me. It's part of motherhood. I do, and always will, worry about my kids when I'm not with them. Even when they're at my in-laws, who are absolutely fantastic with them, I still worry. Are they getting enough attention? Sleeping enough? Is my son eating dog poop? What's happening?

I'm a bit of a worrier in general, and I especially worry about my kids. So, of course, the idea of being a free-range parent doesn't sound like it's quite up my alley.

That being said, I think when my children are older I will lean more towards the free-range movement. That is, if it's still a movement at that time.

My sister and I walked a half-mile to and from our bus stop when we were in junior high. Does that count as free-range? Hundreds of kids in lower grades rode their bikes to school. Does that count as free-range? If that isn't considered free-range parenting (FRP), then why is walking home from a park considered FRP? Because one involves some expected social institution and one is merely for recreation?

And then there's the question of how old a child must be for their activities to no longer be seen as child neglect. 9? 10? 15? And who decides at what age a child is deemed old enough to walk home by themselves? It obviously can't be the parents anymore, as evidence by the ongoing investigation into the Meitiv family.

I know many people say the world is much scarier than it was when we were kids, but I just don't buy it. The difference is that we didn't know about everything happening everywhere 25 years ago. All we had was local news and general world news. We couldn't do a Google search for every atrocious thing that happened one day and be inundated with terrifying results: Kidnappings, robberies, shootings. In our current day and age, we know about all these things whether we want to or not. There aren't more bad things happening; we just know about everything that is happening.

I think allowing my kids the freedom to venture out into the world on their own at an appropriate age can actually make them safer. If I begin teaching them at three what to do if something bad is happening, they will be much safer at age ten when I allow them to walk outside our front door without me.

Let's say I decide I'll never let my kids out of my sight until they're 13. Then I may not feel that safety talk is as imperative to have with my kids starting at a younger age. If anything, even considering the idea of FRP forces me to be on top of my stranger danger game as early as, well, now. My daughter is almost 3 and I think it's the perfect time to begin instructing her on what to do in certain situations because, at some point, I do want her to be able to walk to the park, to a friend's house, to school.

Among the traits I want to instill in my children, street-smarts and independence are in the top ten for sure. I want them to be aware of the world around them, to be mindful of the situations they're in, but to also have the confidence-pressed into them at an early age-to be independent and do their own thing which, I pray, is the right thing.

You can find more from Toni Hammer at Is It Bedtime Yet, on Facebook, and on Twitter.