Free-Range Parenting Under Attack

By Lenore Skenazy

February 14, 2019 4 min read

On the one hand — wow. Two professors are eagerly warning about the dangers of the movement I founded, free-range parenting. That's almost flattering!

In a MarketWatch article based on their new book, "Love, Money & Parenting," Matthias Doepke and Fabrizio Zilibotti argue that their research shows that "intensive" parenting is correlated with success in school.

"In the lingo of developmental psychology, 'helicopter parenting' corresponds to an 'authoritative' parenting style where parents interact a lot with their kids and attempt to guide them through challenges," they write. "'Free range' parenting would be called the 'permissive' style, where children have a lot of freedom but also emotional support from their parents."

Wait a second. How are authoritative parents and free-range parents, as defined by these guys, on totally different tracks? I interact a lot with my kids, and I try to give them freedom and emotional support. So do most of the other free-range parents I know.

The authors say, "Specific activities correlated with child success are reading books with children, telling them stories, and discussing politics with them, although most likely it is less the details but the overall close interaction between parents and children that counts."

Again, since when does being free-range mean not reading books with kids, telling them stories or discussing things with them? I endorse all those activities! Sounds as if what's correlated with success is being engaged.

But then we do get to a point of difference: the disheartening idea that the only way to keep kids from falling off the success track is to cram their days with goal-oriented activities, lest they "waste" their time.

The authors think back on all the hours they spent "watching mindless TV" as kids. Then they turn around and say that they wouldn't trust their own kids with that kind of freedom: "Marathon Fortnite sessions are surely entertaining, but they won't help much with the math test next week."

Somehow, the authors could waste scads of their childhoods watching TV and still end up at Northwestern and Yale but today's kids can't — because the economy.

The job market may indeed be more competitive today (although I have a feeling it always seems as if the golden days ended right before you had to find a job). But it's possible the future winners will be the ones who are ready to jump into or even create the weird new careers no one has dreamed up yet. We're talking about kids who are used to figuring things out on their own — a skill developed when given enough free time to tinker, create and explore. The winners may well be the kids who spent the most time playing, too, because in free play, kids learn to adapt, pivot, fail, lead and actually make something happen rather than wait for the next worksheet.

Most of us would like our kids to do decently in school. We don't ignore most of the demands it makes. But we'd also like to have kids who love doing something for its own sake, not a grade. Kids who are capable and quirky. Kids who don't fall apart if they get a B-minus.

The majority of kids are not meant to be parent-programmed success bots. They are humans. Free-range folks try to treat them as such.

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: at Pixabay

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