The Power of Parenting: Is Free-Range Parenting the New Trend?

May 21, 2018 11:14 PM

(ABC 6 News) -- It's a topic that is sparking conversations across the country.

Utah's new free-range parenting law, which gives children more freedom to be independent, is a familiar old-school parenting concept. 


For 24-year-old Ashli and 29-year-old Nick McLaughlin, they were certain free-range parenting was the way to go even before they met their daughter.

"I think we definitely didn't want to be totally strict with her, we want her to have her freedom and everything," said Ashli. 

While some families choose lullabies to soothe their babies, the newlyweds choose Pink Floyd.  The music filling their home in Mazeppa.

The young couple is joining a recent movement called free-range parenting.  They said they were raised that way and they hope to do the same for their daughter. 

"A kid needs to be able to walk four blocks and wait for the bus and be able to tell jokes with their friends," Nick said.

According to the Utah law passed earlier this year, it defines what neglect is and what it is not.  For example, it is not considered neglect for parents to allow a child -- who is of age and maturity --  to engage in independent activities.

"I think it's a bill that makes sense," Andrea said.

Andrea Thomas is a licensed counselor at Peaks of Hope in Rochester.  She has spent more than a decade working with families and adolescents.  She says this law allows parents the right to raise their kids, their way.

Kristine and her husband Chris Ihrke say each family is different. In their family, 10-year-old Jackson walks home from school every day, alone.

"I don't look at it like neglect, I look at it like I'm letting them explore the world around them," Kristine said.

With three children ages 10 to 18, they know they can't always be there, so communication is key.  "We talk about always making sure they check in and that's a big thing we do, you gotta let us know where you're going," said Kristine, "I find that the kids are better adapted because we don't have tons of restrictions on them, we definitely don't want to shield them because the world is what the world is."

"We want to make sure our kids are safe so we put them in this bubble, but is it going to hurt them in the long run?" asked Lee of Thomas.

"It's hard, but we have to let them fail and no one wants to do that," Thomas said. "Kids just need to grow and learn how to take care of situations."

Thomas says this old-school approach may be seen as neglect because we're inundated with information at our fingertips. "I think it's all of the things in our society coming together, someone can stalk your child on their phone, I think that's scary to people, it scares me," said Thomas.

And it scares parents like Jill and Lance Cordes who have two teenage daughters.

"The bad stuff is always in the back of your head, so it's very hard, especially when they're daughters," Lance said.

"It's hard to trust the other people, not that I don't trust our children, but it's those other elements that scare the heck out of me," added Jill.

Like most moms, Jill is the protective parent.  "Oh, definitely more helicopter, maybe even a drone if that's a term," chuckled Jill. "Being a mom, I want to make them safe and I know I can't always and I have to let them go and that's my struggle but I just want them safe," said Jill.

The couple says they see the benefits of free-range parenting but choose their style because it fits them.

"I don't want to be shamed that we do things differently, that we might say gosh no, come home after practice, we want to eat dinner together," said Jill.

"We don't know how to parent, we just have kids and we have to figure it out and its hard," said Thomas, "shaming parents and all of those kinds of things, it's not helpful."

Experts say there is a checklist that parents can use to see if their kids are ready for more independence.  For example, look at where you live.  Parents need to ask themselves, do you feel safe in your neighborhood?  Is your child mature?  How responsible is your child, meaning can they follow instructions?  Do you have a safety plan in place and most importantly do you, as a parent, feel comfortable with it?

"No matter who you are or what age your kids are, it's the relationship you have with your kids and build with them as parents, spend time with them," Thomas said.

So regardless if you are Free-range or helicopter or maybe even both, the bottom line is you have the power to prepare your children for this big world.

Children like Mia. "It's my job as a father to create a full human being," Nick said.

Although she can't talk yet, Nick and Ashli are already on their way to building that relationship.

Minnesota has not taken a stance on whether or not it will pursue a Free-range parenting law here. 


Laura Lee

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