Free-range parenting takes center stage instead, even if it's tough

By Emely Varosky

Did you hear what Utah did?

It was something radical, apparently. Last week, Utah decided it was OK for kids to play outside or bike to school by themselves. “Free-range parenting” is now legal in that state, giving parents permission to let their kids do some things – gasp – unsupervised.

According to an Associated Press story, it’s a great way to teach kids independence, said Bobbi Wegner, a clinical psychologist based in Brookline.

"We sign our kids up for all these activities — tutoring, different things — to create this perfect resume from a very young age,” she said, “but it's really at a detriment to the kid's mental health.”

There’s part of me that says YES LET THEM BE FREE! Go, little people, go find friends and run around til dusk, and then come home when I ring the dinner bell, as the idyllic image in my head suggests.

When we bought our house at the end of last year, we lucked out in the neighbor department. The family next door has a 12-year-old daughter, and both my stepkids like hanging out with her.

One day shortly after we moved, my husband and I were doing yardwork, paying no attention to the kids as they all played between the two houses. And I grinned, letting it sink in for the first time. This is how it’s supposed to be. No “play dates,” no hovering. Letting it happen organically.

This is nice.

At their mom's house, they play with the neighborhood kids, too, a lot more frequently than at our house. I think it’s awesome. It's how my husband grew up. It's how the anecdotal childhood is supposed to go.

But there’s another part of me — the helicopter-stepparent part, I guess? — that clamors with another set of concerns.

1. We don’t have the kids with us every day.

Having only part-time custody, my husband and I try to squeeze in a whole bunch of attention during the few days each week that we see them. While yes, there are the occasional times I hide in the bathroom to seek a moment’s sanity, as I confessed last week, generally I do a lot of things with them when they ask.

Does that count as hovering? Does that mess with their path to independence? Should I be saying “No” more often, and ushering them out of the house instead?

"I think there is a bit of a misperception around free-range parenting," Wegner told me when I asked if she could elaborate on her thoughts on the topic. "It is not about ignoring your kids... Are you doing things for your child that he can do for himself? ...

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All Extracted Terms (Click to add to search.) THREE+ME: Helicopter parenting flies out the window - Wicked Local Taunton    Email Emely Varosky    YES LET THEM    Associated Press story    evarosky @heraldnews Sign    neighborhood kids    need structure    STEM class    center stage    neighbor department    comfort zone    dinner bell    future    til dusk    Emely Varosky    things    activities    Bobbi Wegner    Last week    parents permission    

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