Free-Range Does Not Mean Feral

By Lenore Skenazy

June 20, 2019 4 min read

Wow! What kind of crazy parent lets their 4-year-old run into the street, stay up all hours and curse like a sailor?

Supposedly, me — according to yet another article (and video) of a supposedly "free-range family."

The most recent one, which ran in Thursday's New York Post, was titled "Free-range parents let 4-year-old play with fire and curse like a sailor."

It profiled a Florida couple who say they believe in raising "free-range kids." That's unfortunate because, as the article also notes, this is a phrase popularized by me — and the title of the book I wrote after my newspaper column about letting my 9-year-old take the subway alone went viral and the news media accused me of being a terrible parent.

But in fact, it is not terrible to trust your kids with some independence and responsibility when you know what they are ready for.

It IS terrible to let a 4-year-old run amok. So let's get this straight. Unlike what it says in the article, Free-Range is NOT:

— Letting young children run unaccompanied into the street.

— Letting them stay up all night and "curse like a sailor."

— No bedtime.

— No sugar.

— Saying "f—k" freely.

— No limits.

In truth, those are lifestyle choices. Free-Range is about giving kids independence and the tools they need to grow up a competent human and be able to thrive in ever-changing landscapes. We're against overprotection, not protection itself.

For example, we believe parents must teach kids to cross the street safely before we let them do it on their own. It's about preparing the child for the path, not vice versa.

In fairness to the parents featured in the article and video, it's likely these were edited in such a way to achieve maximum clicks and outrage. Many of the activities featured (like exploring the woods, rough-and-tumble play) are what we encourage kids to experience to help them grow confident and competent.

Let Grow, the nonprofit born out of Free-Range Kids, doesn't say parents should never discipline or teach their kids. Rather, we say our culture underestimates what kids can do and overestimates danger. The result is a generation of kids who are riddled with anxiety and who equate discomfort with being unsafe.

Like the parents in the story, we do think kids can learn how to use a sharp knife, handle bumps and help with shopping at a young age. Like the parents, we do push back on the idea that parents must be worried constantly about their kids getting kidnapped.

We do think parents today have been scared away from letting their kids do so many wonderful, formative things they themselves did as kids: playing outside, exploring, chores, problem-solving and YES, using a knife. These are the things that help create competent, confident and resilient kids.

When the media toss every controversial parenting decision into a blender and serve it up as "Free-Range," they are trying to make parents think it's a hodgepodge of danger and neglect. So, fight hysteria. Fight the media's obsession with child danger and parenting styles.

And Let Grow.

Lenore Skenazy is president of Let Grow, founder of Free-Range Kids and author of "Has the World Gone Skenazy?" To learn more about Lenore Skenazy ([email protected]) and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at

Photo credit: coombesy at Pixabay

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