Helicopter vs. Free-Range Parenting

I read an article from England last week about “free-range vs. helicopter” parenting.  According to the article, helicopter parents wrap their “children in cotton wool,” and free-range parents “give [their] offspring a bus pass and mobile phone and [let] them go for it.  One of the questions raised was “Should a three-year-old be allowed to risk possible (but unlikely) injury climbing to the top of the spider web in the playground?”

For myself, I’d say ‘yeah.’  Stand underneath or stand close and let them climb.  The worst that can happen is that they get a “boo boo.”  Especially if they’re boys, they need to do this stuff.  I don’t see that as either free-range or helicoptering.  Kids have to explore the world and sometimes they’re gonna get hurt.  My theory is if you have a kid who hasn’t broken a bone by the time he or she is 18, something is wrong. 

United States mother and controversial journalist Lenore Skenazy sparked a global outcry a few years ago when she left her 9 year old son in a Manhattan department store with instructions on how to find his way home on the subway, and then wrote about it.  The author of “Free-Range Kids” was labeled “America’s worst mother.”  I would have had her arrested for putting her child in danger.  Yet her reasoning behind her actions was part of her call for parents to raise safe and self-reliant children.  Well, unless they’re carrying a gun or are 5th degree blackbelts, that’s kind of silly. 

I decided to check out some of the information floating around the internet, and after looking at a lot of the numbers, here’s my conclusion:

Anybody who tells you that being a helicopter mom is stupid and suffocating should be sneered at.  The world is very different than what it was when we grew up.  There is a lot of anger.  For those of you who are among the older baby boomers, do you remember road rage?  No.  Did you know anything about gangs running around with guns and shooting up neighborhoods?  No.  What about drug dealers in the school (who are mainly other kids)?  No.  Do you remember 9 year old girls getting down on their knees to perform oral sex on the little boys in classrooms?  No.  So don’t tell me the world isn’t different.  You need to be alert.

I remember when my son decided he wanted to ride his bicycle to school. I agonized for a while and then said “absolutely, you can ride your bike to school.”  He went to bed all happy.  What he never knew was that every day, Dad followed at a distance so he could keep an eye on him without my son knowing Dad was there, just in case there was a car accident and he got hurt.  But he got to have his sense of independence.  He got to feel like a big boy on his own.  But we didn’t give up our responsibility to ensure his safety. 

Yes, you must helicopter at a distance.  To me, that’s the answer.  Free-range parents are what I see too much of today.  You’re either too lazy, too self-involved, too busy, busy, busy or just plain ignorant of your responsibilities.  But helicoptering at a distance is good.  Ultimately, our job is to nurture, to teach, to provide for them and to protect them.  And don’t lapse in the “protection department” under the notion that your kids need to learn independence.  Frankly, they have their whole lives to learn that.  So, let them use tools, let them go on adventures, let them do all kinds of things.  But helicopter at a distance.

If you’re on them for everything, you’re neurotic.  If you’re not on them for anything, you’re irresponsible.  So helicopter at a distance, or, if you must, free-range at a close distance.  Whichever version you like better.  It’s one thing to have your child get to 18 with bruises and bangs and another thing to have them get to 18 having been molested, abducted or sexually exploited, or pressured into using drugs.