Free-Range Parenting is Not Child Neglect

I’m sure most of you aren’t strangers to the concept of helicopter parenting. It’s the overbearing style of child-rearing that has a mother, father, or both, involved in every aspect of their offspring’s lives.

Many people do understand the need to afford our children the necessary freedom to explore the world. Unfortunately, the media has perpetuated myths concerning significant parental fears, such as child abduction, leading to a suffocating style of raising children.

Undoubtedly, this outlook is short-sighted. It’s led to overzealous laws being put in place against something as harmless as a child walking home alone.

On the other side of this heavy-handed philosophy, is something called free-range parenting.

What is Free-Range Parenting?

Free-range parenting has become increasingly prevalent.

In fact, many states have introduced laws allowing children to walk, run, or bike to and from school, travel to commercial or recreational facilities. They’re also allowed to play outside and remain at home unattended.

It’s worth noting that in the State of California, there is no legal age stipulated on when a child can be left home alone or allowed to walk outside alone.

Although this methodology is increasingly becoming more accepted, free-range parents aren’t necessarily safe from consequences. Many people who apply these principles to child-rearing still face challenges with child protective services and nosey neighbors alike.

The Pushback Against Free-Range Parenting

An article in Reader’s Digest called “When Good Parents Get Arrested,” discussed this issue. Mothers and fathers wishing to skip to the store to pick up some milk – while leaving their 10-year-old at home – are afraid they might end up on a child abuse registry.

The story of Alexander and Danielle Meitiv proves that the fear of an unreasonable response to free-range parenting isn’t unfounded. They were embroiled in a protracted battle with CPS for the mere act of allowing their 10-and-6-year-olds to walk home alone from the park.

Alexander and Danielle were warned for the first infraction. But the second time the children were caught walking home, the daughter and son were detained for 5 hours by the police.

Fortunately, the couple eventually had the verdict land in their favor. But they never should have had to go through this kind of turmoil in the first place.

Delving Deeper Into the Law

If you look at how California defines neglect in its state legislature, you’ll see it broken into two parts—severe and general.

With free-range parenting, severe neglect doesn’t play a role, seeing as this classification involves criminal levels of negligence that cause bodily harm, sickness, or malnutrition.

However, where the confusion comes into play for some is with the idea of general neglect, as it’s defined in the statute as follows:

“General neglect means the negligent failure of a person having the care or custody of a child to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, medical care, or supervision where no physical injury to the child has occurred.”

I’ve bolded supervision for a reason, which is the primary sticking point that’s landed people, such as the Meitivs, in unfair situations. This idea of free-range parents being negligent with supervising their children doesn’t hold weight.

Allowing your children to walk home on their own is a decision made for their own benefit. It teaches them about independence and decision-making in a relatively controlled environment.

On the other hand, free-range parenting decisions aren’t reached out of laziness, cruelty, or carelessness. It is nowhere near the same as acting in a way that directly hinders your child’s well-being.

That a parent using the free-range philosophy could end up on an index meant to document child abusers is a failure of our child protective services system that goes beyond comprehension.

What’s Old Shouldn’t Seem So New

As society continues to develop, so does the way we view child-rearing. In a lot of ways, that’s a good thing. Long gone are the days where severe corporal punishment was an acceptable practice for mothers and fathers.

Still, it’s fair to argue that in adjusting to a more humane style of parenting, the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction.

There’s a difference between keeping children safe and coddling them.

Free-range parenting was the norm in generations past, where children roamed neighborhoods and were free to explore and learn about the world. Just because this is something that used to be ‘okay,’ doesn’t mean it can’t still be perfectly reasonable with a 21st-century perspective.

Luckily, despite what overzealous parents and child protective workers might think, the law is on the side of free-range parenting.