If your child asked if they could play out alone for the first time, what would you say? Would you encourage them, willing them to enjoy time independently? Or would you worry about what might happen, imagining the worst-case scenario?
Every decade, new parenting trends emerge – from ‘intensive’ to ‘tiger’ and even ‘lawnmower’ mums and dads. Your answer to the question above might depend on whether you’re a ‘helicopter’, or the opposite, a ‘free-range’ parent.
Free-range parenting evolved from an American paediatrician, Dr. Benjamin Spock back in 1946, who encouraged parents to take a more laissez-faire approach to bringing up their kids. The 1990s saw a rise in “helicopter” parenting, with a focus on keeping kids safe – yet in 2009, a shift back towards the relaxed approach was noted, as documented in Lenore Skenazy’s book, ‘Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry’.
In light of it being half-term, the NSPCC has shared advice for parents who might want to let their kids go out alone. “You might be wondering if your child is ready to go out alone to play and explore with friends,” the charity tweeted. “We’ve got some tips to help you make a decision.”
The charity reminds parents to talk to their kids about the dangers in advance of them playing out alone, set some rules, build children’s confidence and keep the conversation going about their safety.
Should we all be taking a free-range approach to our parenting? We asked two parents to give us their views.
‘Isn’t There A Happy Medium Where We Can Trust Our Kids?’
Mike Rampton, 35, dad to an 18-month-old daughter
Kids are safer than they’ve ever been, and everyone’s terrified. Any dangers there are, are so magnified, so obsessed over and so heavily discussed that we’re all afraid to let our children out of our sight, and it’s a massive shame.
The way kids used to grow up, they’d have breakfast with their family then go off and get up to mischief, turning up again at dinner time in desperate need of a bath. If we’ve lost that way of learning about the world, that feels like we’ve lost something important.
Yeah, sometimes you’d come back with an unusual bite, charred fingertips or a chunk missing from your knee, but it was all a learning experience.
There’s a danger of sounding like some dimwit lost in time talking about things like this, pining for a world that doesn’t exist, of ‘Just William’ and ruddy cheeks and jolly japes – and that’s not what I’m saying. I love my PlayStation with a passion, and look forward to my daughter one day completely schooling me on it. I also love spending time with her and would rather she didn’t bugger off all day. But isn’t there a happy medium somewhere, where we can trust our kids – beyond a certain age, obviously – to look after themselves and interact with the world without having to keep an eye on them 24/7?
Surely we can teach our kids how to be safe, but independent – how to deal with roads, what to do in the presence of strangers, what not to eat, when to immediately call for help or come home – and let them off the leash a bit? There’s a world out there of adventures to have, fascinating things to fall off and interesting grazes to get.
‘We Have Created A Molly-Coddled Generation Who Are Scared Of Their Own Shadow’
Michelle Martin, 45, mum to a 28-year-old son and 2-year-old grandson
It’s a great idea to give kids the freedom to be kids again. We’ve created a molly-coddled generation who are scared of their own shadow, and wouldn’t know what to do if they spent a day outdoors. There’s always a constant drive to get kids fit and healthy – and the digital age we live in doesn’t help. So any encouragement to get them out and about is a good one. Kids should love where they live and reclaim their communities back, while also developing their interpersonal skills with other children outside the home.
I remember walking to junior school on my own, and many summer holidays I would get up and take off on my bike – and be out for the whole day. There was a whole gang of us, a motley crew of boys and girls aged between seven and 13. We’d meet up, ride our bikes, fall off, scrape our knees, dust ourselves off, hit the park and play for hours without the hint of a first aid kit or adult in sight. When it got dark, we headed home. It may be nostalgia talking but I was confident, independent and very happy.
This was something I wanted my son to experience, and as much as there were restrictions when he was growing up, I allowed him a lot of freedom. From about age nine, he was allowed to play out without supervision and take the bus to and from school alone. I tried to steer him away from constantly being cooped up inside playing games consoles.
I must admit, there were times I did and start to believe the hype when it came to safer parenting. I was always mindful that some harm could come my son. So I would always pick him up, rather than let him walk home alone, and I always made sure his mobile phone was fully charged so I could call at any time.
I think it’s worked, giving him freedom – as an adult he still plays football, rides his bike (occasionally) and is very active with his own son at the weekends, chasing him around a park.
For advice on how to teach your kids to stay safe while they’re out on their own, head to the NSPCC website.