A new parenting philosophy is picking up steam and generating a lot of buzz in Connecticut.
Many are asking if “free-range parenting” works, and wondering if it is right for them.
“It's a bigger thing than just being free-range,” said Annie Chapman, of Mystic, who said her children know what it means to be a child.
Exploring and experimenting is what it is all about.
“In bad weather the children still go out to play, and they climb snow hills, and they play in the stream and they build dams,” Chapman said.
The mom of four said she is one of many parents who subscribe to a philosophy called “free-range parenting.”
“Allowing children to have more freedom to navigate their circumstances without parental oversight,” said Denise Parent, of the Association of Marriage and Family Therapy.
The idea is that by allowing more independence at earlier ages, children will become more self-reliant adults.
“I mean I'm realistic, but I let them have their freedom,” Chapman said. “They have a fire pit...and yep, my kids can build a fire, but I taught them that. I've given them the skills. So I trust them.”
Chapman's 16- and 11-year-old children said their upbringing has helped them become more confident.
“I guess it just kind of works,” said Forest Skinner, Chapman's son.
“We were just raised very aware to look outside, and not be on your phone...just to be aware of your surroundings,” said Maggie Skinner, Chapman's 16-year-old daughter.
The movement was started about seven years ago, after Lenore Skenazy allowed her 9-year-old son to ride the New York subway by himself.
The story made headlines, and to this day sparks controversy.
“We're here to protect our children and make sure that they're safe, and guide them without letting them figure it all out on their own,” said Kevin Ingraham of Tolland.
Some parents cringe at the idea of leaving a 9-year-old alone in the most populated city in America.
However, Skenazy and her husband said they felt they thoroughly prepared him.
Free-range families said preparation is the cornerstone to challenging children with new responsibilities.
“I'm strict. We have manners, so when I do send them out in the world, I can bank that they are going to be respectful to you,” Chapman said.
Maggie Skinner said her mother holds a deep trust in her, which makes it easier to open up.
“She can be there for me because she knows what's going on,” Maggie Skinner said.
She said her mother is more in touch with the things going on in her life, compared to many of her friends.
While most states, including Connecticut, don't define a minimum age when a child can be left unattended, others get specific.
Earlier this year, a Maryland family allowed their children, who were just six and 10, to play alone in the park.
Police picked up the children and held them in custody for several hours, and the parents were investigated by Child Protective Services.
“It's not just letting your child roam unsupervised with no thought, I think it's important to make a conscious decision,” Parent said.
Some experts said the challenge for parents is letting go of fear.
“Since 1993, the crime rate has gone down 50 percent so children are actually walking around in a safer world,” said Ruth Freeman, of Positive Parenting.
For some, the decline isn't enough to ease the worries of parents.
“In the 1950s and stuff, kids used to just walk all over the place. You sent your kid to walk down to the grocery store and that was normal,” Maggie Skinner said.
The free-range philosophy boils down to just one thing for Chapman, which is raising capable and self-aware children.
“I want my children to know who they are, know for themselves and trust themselves. So, being the free-range thing, it's kind of like trusting your intuition, knowing who you are and going with that,” Chapman said.
From free-range to helicopter parenting, and everything in between, there certainly is no foolproof guide to raising a child.
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