Judging a Movement: Considering the Validity of Free Range Parenting - The Scarlet


Apr 16, 2018 12:54 AM - 3 months, 2 days, 7 hours, 44 minutes, 13 seconds ago



Almost everyone has something to say about how to maintain the well-being of children, but unfortunately people usually disagree on how and when that well-being is threatened, and how it should be protected.

For more than half a century, there has been debate about the degree to which parents can or should restrict their children’s freedom in the name of safety. In March of 2018, Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed a law amending the definition of what constitutes child neglect, a law which many consider to be a push in favor of “free range parenting.” Free range parenting is perhaps most easily described as what it is not, rather than what it is. Free range parents reject the notion that their children should be within the range of familiar adult supervision at all times and that they are either too incompetent or in too much danger to engage in independent activities such as going to the grocery store or the playground by themselves.

This debate is exceptionally complicated, and because of that I am not going to try to make a judgement call about whether the bill is ultimately a good or a bad thing. Rather, I would like to talk about the difficulty of making such an assessment and approaching the complexity of making judgements about any particular parenting style.

While many have clamored for this “philosophy,” something that must be kept in mind is that creating any one particular creed for how one should parent is potentially dangerous. This does not mean that how one raises a child should be completely free from judgement, but rather that one should not base one’s parenting style on the teachings of an ideology, beneficent as it may seem.

Ruth Paris, a professor at Boston University’s School of Social Work, eloquently explains, “What children need is a balance between permissiveness to explore the world and limits to contain the world. We know it’s a continuum. You want to be in the middle, depending on the parents, the kids, and the parents’ style and needs.”

What Professor Paris is pointing to here is, in part, the incredible difficulty of finding the right rules for raising children. If there was a specific point on the continuum of good parenting, there would be no continuum. As such, it is dangerous to utilize the definition of good parenting from an external standard or movement that is not carefully considered within the context of one’s own home.

While I believe that there is a legitimate case to be made that the Utah legislation will help avoid needlessly charging parents of child neglect, one must be careful in making vast generalizations about parenting based on that legitimacy. There have been instances in which parents have been arrested for allowing their children to play outside in the yard, and on one notorious occasion, two children (ages 6 and 10) were detained when ...

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