Slow or Free Range Parenting

Just recently I watched a program about Slow and Free Range parenting.  What exactly is slow parenting?  It is a parenting style in which few activities are organised for children. Instead, they are allowed to explore the world at their own pace. It is a response to concerted cultivation and the widespread trend for parents to schedule activities and classes after school; to solve problems on behalf of the children, and to buy services from commercial suppliers rather than letting nature take its course.

Carl Honoré, a father of two and author of the books In Praise of Slowand Under Pressure, said the idea is to allow young people to largely discover the world for themselves, rather than to force young people into overstructured, overscheduled lifestyles that “turn parenting into a race for perfection.” “Slow parenting is about bringing a bit of balance back,” he said. “It’s about giving children the time and space to explore their own world at their own pace.”  Over time, Honoré said, the aim is for young people to “work out who they are, rather than who we want them to be.”

The concept of free range parenting came from Columnist Lenore Skenazy, a mother who allowed her 9 year old son to travel alone on the New York subway system and then wrote about the experience in the New York Sun.    Free-range parenting is based on the notion “that we can give our children the same kind of freedom we had [as kids] without going nuts with worry,” Skenazy says. “When you let children out, all the good things happen – the self-confidence, happiness, and self-sufficiency that come from letting our kids do some things on their own,” she says.

Advocates of slow parenting says that this method of parenting allows kids to flourish.  Some of the goals of slow parenting are –

  • The central tenet of slow parenting is to let a child be happy and satisfied with their own achievements, whatever they may be; and even though those do not necessarily fall within the commonly understood meaning of the word “achievement”.
  • The aim is not to stress a child into doing things aimed at “success” and wealth acquisition and so on. Stress and overstimulation are not good for kids and it is this that slow parenting hopes to reduce.
  • Self discovery and ability to take care of themselves are values that this style of parenting hopes to instill in a child.
  • Unsupervised play out of doors and close to nature, as far as possible is advisable according to the proponents of slow parenting. Time spent in the natural world is emphasized here.
  • When it comes to toys as well, slow parenting has certain recommendations. It is the view commercially manufactured toys are limited in their application, and designed to encourage further purchases, and that they may also limit the imagination and natural exploration of a child. If however you give the child a wooden stick he or she may think of a million different uses for it!
  • While many parents take an active interest in children’s play guiding or helping them, slow parenting recommends standing back and letting the child decide what he or she wants to do.
  • Most TV programming is considered unsuitable for children under this parenting style.
  • The merits of after school classes such as football, ballet, drama, tennis, swimming and art class are questioned by this style of parenting.
  • The emphasis placed by parents on safeguarding kids against all risks is also something not advocated by slow parenting since it is thought that a child should be brought up to assess and combat reasonable risks.

Growing up, we played unsupervised.  We played in the yard until it was time to go in the house to have lunch or when it got dark.  We felt safe.  We rode our bikes around the neighborhood with wearing helmets.  We got bruises and scrapes.  We didn’t have television.  We listened to programs on the radio, read a lot.  I was an avid reader and I spent a lot of time with my nose buried in a book or writing short stories.  We were active.  We walked a lot.  Played hopscotch, jumped rope, played Chinese skipping, rode bikes and scooters.  We were allowed to walk to the corner store or to a friend’s house by ourselves.

However, this was over 40 years ago and times were different then.  Our parents didn’t have to worry about pedophiles.  Neighbors kept an eye out for each other and their kids.  We dared not cut classes because we were afraid that our parents would find out.  We never walked home alone or wandered off anywhere by ourselves. Our parents gave us freedom but we were still careful.

I agree that too much TV is not good for kids.  Some parents don’t allow their kids to watch any TV while others only allow them to watch it for 15 minutes a day.  We allow our son to watch TV but we encourage him to do other things like reading, doing some Math and free play.  He enjoys playing with his blocks.  He has a guitar which he loves to play.  I don’t agree that toys limit the imagination and natural exploration of a child.  My child imagines that he is building trains and ships with his blocks.  At daycare he is always constructing something with the lego blocks.  This helps with his hand and eye coordination.  He also plays with hangers, pretending that they are drumsticks.  He has decided that he wants to be a pirate.  I think this has to do with Jake and The Never Land Pirates, a show he watches on Disney Junior.

We teach him not to talk to strangers, or to tell anyone his name or to go with anyone.  He is three and a half years old.  We allow him the freedom that is appropriate for his age.  I believe that there should be a balance.  We give them the freedom to explore but still set boundaries that would keep them safe.  I believe that kids should be free to be kids and play their own way.  There are times when they will learn some lessons the hard way.  For example if you tell them not to do something and explain what will happen if they do and they still go ahead and do it, then they have to deal with the consequences.

Nowadays it seems as if kids are allowed to do whatever they please.  They don’t have boundaries or have very few (if any) rules.  They get to go wherever or do whatever they want.  I remember watching one of those Housewives shows and one of the mothers was called the B word by her daughter.  The daughter told her parents that they never disciplined her.  On another show, this young girl said she had no rules growing up and she was allowed to do whatever she pleased.  She later admitted that she wished there had been rules because they would have made her feel safe.

Children need guidelines–structure, rules.  They need to learn that there are responsibilities, rewards and consequences.  It’s like living in society.  We are free to live our lives as we see fit but there are laws that we need to abide by.  It’s the same with our kids.  They can play, explore and learn with or without supervision but they need to have structure in their lives.  At daycare there is structure–there are rules they have to follow.  They learn to follow instructions, responsibilities, social skills, how to be creative and work in a group and independently.

One of my co-workers allows her son to walk home from school.  He started doing this when he was 10.  She makes sure that he walks where there are lots of people–no shortcuts and that he calls her as soon as he gets home.  I think this is fine.  However, I wouldn’t let my child to ride the subway by himself.  He has to be 13 or older before I would let him do this and he has to be mature enough.  If anything happens, he has to be able to protect himself.  He has to prove that he could take care of himself.

I agree that children are being bombarded with too many activities.  I am amazed at the number of practices some of them have to go to in addition to going to school and doing homework.  They are getting burnt out.  Parents are getting frazzled because they run around getting them to soccer practice, piano lessons or choir practice.  I think two activities are enough and spread out during the week–tennis or soccer or basketball practice on Mondays and swimming or piano or violin lessons on Wednesdays or Thursdays.  Kids should have down time at home reading or doing some activity they enjoy or simply spending quality time with their families.

I don’t know what my child will be interested in doing when he gets older but I will make sure that he is not involved in too many activities.  He will still have his down time.

Whatever method of parenting you choose, is your decision.  Just bear in mind that society is not the same as today as it was in our time.  Kids still need to be kept safe even while they enjoy the freedom of exploring their environment.  A happy balance is the key.

Sources:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slow_parenting; http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/story/2012/01/06/slow-parenting.html; http://www.newbornbabyzone.com/baby-care/slow-parenting/; http://www.cbc.ca/news/yourcommunity/2012/01/should-parents-take-a-more-hands-off-approach-to-raising-their-children.html; http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/parenting/young-children/children-development/article685346.ece

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