Some call this style of child-rearing the reverse of helicopter parenting.
Nationally, advocates of “free-range” parenting have sought a return to letting mature children explore more out in the world alone – and without parents getting shamed – arguing that those kids grow up healthier, happier and more resilient.
Utah recently passed what’s called the first free-range kids law in the U.S. to clarify that it isn’t considered child neglect for parents to allow kids “of sufficient age and maturity” to engage in independent activities such as walking to school, playing outside or staying in a car alone.
Groups from New York to Texas want similar laws. Washington is among many states that don’t legislate the age at which children can be left at home or explore outside alone, letting parents decide as a common sense approach.
“Children need to have autonomy as much as possible over their lives,” said Durgai Garrettson, a Spokane parent of three, ages 8, 12, and 15.
“I’m not a permissive parent. I expect my children to do their chores and meet expectations, but I also want to give them as much freedom as possible to choose how to do that and freedom to explore their neighborhood and have alone time with their friends.”
Garrettson argues the approach lets children learn to trust themselves, figure out who they are and become more resourceful.
“I think some parents are afraid to let their children out of their sight. I think that hurts children. It doesn’t allow them to develop and to use their brains.”
But applying free-range without judgment isn’t always easy as Spokane resident Sadie Lake learned.
A year ago, Lake let her three children – then 4, 8 and 11 – play together in a park directly across from their home, where she could see them from her living room and kitchen. It felt safer than them romping in the front lawn where they’d be closer to traffic, she said. She left the front door open, so she could hear them as she prepped dinner. Then the unexpected happened.
“I get a phone call from a woman with this very judgmental tone,” Lake said. “She said, ‘I’m at the park and I have your children.’ I’m like, ‘Well, OK, I let them go over there to play. I can see you.’
“She was basically judging me, and what she did was ask my kids my name. She looked me up on Facebook and saw we had a mutual friend, called that friend and got my number, then called me basically to chastise me.
“I can’t even let my kids go to the park without this parent judgment thing going on.”
Even though she was comfortable with them playing at the park, especially because they were together, Lake…