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Child and Adolescent Counseling Blog for Lisa Klipfel, MFT
New Age Parenting: Helicopter Parenting or a Free-Range Parenting?

I was recently forwarded an article on Free-Range Parenting. Intrigued by a title that appears to reference chickens and the strong reaction from the sender, I read it right away. Before I tell you about the article, let me explain these two terms.

Helicopter parenting describes parents that hover, like a helicopter. The concept is that are many evils that can intrude upon the child's life and the parent needs to protect them from them. They are involved in every aspect of their child's life, and make their input known in every area as well. They are often highly scheduled, and many times over scheduled children with no free time. It is often referenced in educational settings.

Free-range parenting as described in this article is the concept of letting children play unsupervised. The concept is that the kids are overprotected and live in a bubble wrap society. By this over protection, fear and dependence is instilled. The idea is for kids to learn how navigate things on their own, really on their own.

So the question begs asking: Which is better helicopter parenting or free-range parenting? Each have serious and significant pros and cons. When I first came into this field, more supervision of children was the rant of society. Many evils seemed to permeate society: kidnappings, teen drug usage, bullying. So parents took a tighter rein on their children. There is still philosophical debates whether rates have increased in some of these areas, or just media coverage.

The good thing that came from more supervision of children is kids knowing that their parent cared about them. The increased supervision created more dialogue between kids and their parents. It gave kids alternative activities to choose than using drugs. Parents got educated in the information age, but then they got too educated leading to fear and worry. Kids started having less and less time to get into trouble, or be snatched up by a stranger. The result was over scheduled children. Some of these children have not had much or any unstructured time with friends to learn how to handle things independently. Some of them are burnt out emotionally, academically or even physically from the sporting or other activities they are involved in. Teachers started worrying less about inspiring children to learn and more how they were going to explain their teaching method or subject matter to parents. There is an aspect of helicopter parenting that is beneficial. I call it black ops helicopter parenting when it becomes unhealthy.

But what about free-range parenting? I can see the eyes rolling now. There really is some benefit to that as well. When I read the article there were parts of me that were cheering for the writer, as she describes the need for unstructured play. There is so much for kids to learn from unstructured play with peers from pre-school all the way to adolescents. It teaches them about social roles, social rules, imagination, problem solving, and so much more. It allows them to learn what is expected and accepted by peers, beyond what a parent teaches. I have always been an advocate of unstructured play, but where I think the line is crossed is supervision. There is a difference between unstructured play and unsupervised unstructured play. There is a difference between saying no to a child because you don't want them to do something, and saying no because they might lose a limb or cause death. But the question to evaluate is when will a child learn that something is hot by a parent saying so and when will they learn by touching it. That is the basis of free-range supervision.

Lastly, I will say that your choice of parenting will range depending on your values and your experiences. I have found that some children respond better to helicopter parenting while others respond better to free-range. Let's complicate matters if both those children live in the same household, then what do you do? It may seem easy to condemn one style or the other, but with anything the answer really is in the balance of the two.

If you are struggling with your child and would like some direction, contact Lisa for a consultation at (949) 891-2127.

Reference articles:

Grounding the Helicopter Parent - Washington Post
Why Free Range Kids? - Lenore Skenazy

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