TEXAS VIEW: Free-range parenting should be choice of parents

By The Lufkin News Writer

The highly structured and supervised lives of children today are far different from the freewheeling childhoods of most of our editorial board and the vast majority of our readers.

It was while watching the 2007 movie “Bridge to Terabithia” — a film adaptation of the beloved 1977 book that won the Newbery Medal for children’s literature — a couple of nights ago that one member of this board was struck by how sad the story is, and not just because of the tragic and unexpected death of 12-year-old Jesse Aarons’ best friend, Leslie Burke. That plot point is just as gut-wrenching now as it was when we all read the book in elementary school. No, what made the story so sad to this staffer today is the realization that children can’t play anymore as Jesse and Leslie do in this story. There would be no “Terabithia” today because kids would never be allowed to roam alone in the woods for hours on end without adult supervision. And that’s the bigger tragedy.

A couple days later, an identical sentiment was being championed in articles from Time magazine, The Associated Press and other media outlets: Free-range parenting as “an antidote for anxiety-plagued parents and overscheduled kids,” as the AP article explained.

Free-range parenting (seen as the opposite of helicopter parenting) is the concept of raising children to function alone with limited parental supervision. The belief is that children who are free to ride their bicycles home or explore a playground on their own are happier, healthier and more resilient.

The concept came about almost a decade ago, when Lenore Skenazy stirred up a firestorm with a column about allowing her then-9-year-old son to ride the New York City subway by himself. Since then, Skenazy has been a vocal advocate for free-range parenting.

Critics argue that letting kids strike out on their own can leave them vulnerable to serious dangers, from criminals to cars. In several high-profile cases — including a Maryland couple who let their 10- and 6-year-old kids walk home alone from a park in 2015 — parents have been investigated by child welfare authorities.

But lawmakers and policy groups in several states, including Texas, say “the protective pendulum has swung too far, and it’s time to send a message that parents who raise their children in a healthy environment can grant them more freedom,” the AP article states.

Utah recently passed the country’s first law legalizing free-range parenting, which specifies that it’s not neglectful to let well-cared-for children travel to school, explore a playground or stay in the car alone if they’re mature enough to do so. In Texas, by contrast, leaving a kid alone in the car while you run in a store for a gallon of milk is a Class C misdemeanor offense, as well as a form of neglectful supervision that is investigated by Child Protective Services.

Fortunately, Brandon Logan, with the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation, is working with lawmakers on a bill to be introduced next year, according to an article in Time.

“We expect adults to be independent, and we expect parents to raise their children to be independent, and you can’t do that whenever children are being micromanaged,” Logan said in the article.

We look forward to a future in which children can have childhoods that look a little more like our own did, with less tutoring and practices and more time playing outside, riding their bikes and, yes, sometimes getting into pickles and getting out of them on their own.

While we realize not all kids are of the same maturity level, we believe parents should be trusted to determine what is and isn’t right for their kids at different ages.

Utah parent Krista Whipple sums it up best in the AP article:

“Kids are not in constant danger, and it’s OK to let them outside, and it’s OK … to let them get lost,” she said. “They’ll find their way home.”