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Free-range parents need affirmation, too

Swimming against the cultural tide of over-parenting is hard, and a word of encouragement goes a long way.

Earlier this week, my 10-year-old announced that he wanted to walk to the dollar store to stock up on candy. He'd use his own money, he said, and would buy candy on behalf of his siblings, who had already donated to the fund. I agreed to the plan – not because I was pleased about the candy, but because I believe in encouraging independence in my kids.

We discussed the safest route, as he'd have to cross a major road, and then he headed off, walking about a mile across town to reach the dollar store. A short while later I got a text message from a friend, who wrote:

“I just saw your son walking. You rock for giving him so much independence. As a teacher, it's awesome to see parents doing that for their children.”

That text message made my day. To know that others in the community recognize the importance of letting one's kids wander freely is hugely meaningful. It got me thinking about how rarely free-range parents hear affirmation of their often-tough parenting decisions. It's not easy to let a kid go, even when you know it's the best thing for them, but you prepare them for it and do it anyway.

We live in a bizarre world where giving kids independence is seen as irresponsible and even dangerous, despite mounting evidence that lack of independence poses a far greater danger to children these days, not to mention the statistical evidence that the world is far safer now for kids than it was several decades ago. Because of this, letting kids go feels like swimming against the tide and risking the judgement of everyone around.

I continue to let my kids play freely outside, walk around town, cross streets to visit parks and playgrounds, ride bikes to friends' houses, and do minor shopping errands, and I am confident in their ability to navigate around our small town and conduct themselves well; but every time they leave there's a niggling doubt in the back of my mind that today might be the day when I'll hear from an irritated neighbor or even the police.

This is where community support can play an important role, as I realized when I got that rare and special text message. I've had friends express surprise and admiration for the amount of freedom my kids get, but to directly acknowledge and compliment my approach was unusual and encouraging.

So, if you know other parents who are working hard to raise strong, resilient, independent children, please go out of your way to tell them they're doing a good job. Acknowledge their effort and how tough it is to fight against the tide of over-protection, and say that you know this is what more kids need. Send a private message, post something on social media, or compliment them in front of other parents. Not only does it make the free-range parent feel validated, but it could encourage other parents to allow their kids a bit more freedom.

Swimming against the cultural tide of over-parenting is hard, and a word of encouragement goes a long way.