What Kind Of Parent Are You? The Debate Over 'Free-Range' Parenting When a Maryland family let their children walk home alone from a park, it drew the authorities' attention and helped spark a national conversation. Two moms with differing views weigh in.
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What Kind Of Parent Are You? The Debate Over 'Free-Range' Parenting

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What Kind Of Parent Are You? The Debate Over 'Free-Range' Parenting

What Kind Of Parent Are You? The Debate Over 'Free-Range' Parenting

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Now to the debate about so-called free range parenting. This whole concept drew a lot of attention recently after a couple in Maryland let their two kids, aged 10 and 6, walk one mile on their own from a local park back to their house. A concerned neighbor saw the kids and called the police. And suddenly those parents, Danielle and Alexander Meitiv, were under investigation for neglect. The family has been vocal about their choice to give their kids more freedom. We reached out to two women who blog about parenting issues, Katie Arnold of Santa Fe, New Mexico and Denene Millner of Atlanta, Georgia. I started by asking them what they thought about this particular case. Katie Arnold said she appreciates what Danielle Meitiv was doing by letting her kids out on their own.

KATIE ARNOLD: I liked her idea of sort of their radius was going out. You know? Let's try this very close to home. Let's go a little farther. And I thought she had a very measured, practical approach.

MARTIN: Denene, how did you see this?

DENENE MILLNER: I thought that it was a bit much to let a 6-year-old and a 10-year-old walk a mile and play in the park for an hour by themselves without an adult. I have three children. And it took me years to trust that other people wouldn't bother my children, even with something as simple as getting off of the bus and coming down the street without me. It's not about kids to me. It's about the outside world and what the possibilities are.

MARTIN: So you're not saying, no, you shouldn't teach your kids how to be independent, but there are just too many external factors that you just can't account for?

MILLNER: Absolutely. My daughters are 12 and 15. And we live across the street in Atlanta from Piedmont Park. And I don't let them go to the park by themselves. They can, once we're in the park, go off and ride their bicycles for a period of time without me being on their heels. But I live in the epicenter of a big urban city.

MARTIN: I mean, this - you do have to consider the environment. Katie, how do you think about that?

ARNOLD: Yeah, certainly. My two daughters are 4 and 6. So we're not at that stage where I'm comfortable at all leaving them in a park and having them walk home. I certainly would like to think that that is possible as they grow up. We also live in Santa Fe. You know, we know many people. I grew up in a town in New Jersey with, you know, a suburb. We had free range. And I think that's where I'm coming from as a mother, wanting to give my children the same freedoms that I had, but acknowledging that it's a different landscape we live in.

MARTIN: So what's changed, do you think, Katie? Can you give me an example of something you perhaps got to do that your kids couldn't now?

ARNOLD: I think our neighborhoods have changed. I think maybe we've dispersed more. The neighborhood I grew up, there was a kind of protective posse of kids, if you will. And there's some safety in that.

MILLNER: I grew up in Long Island, New York. And our neighbors looked out for the kids. Now the neighbors call the cops on your kids.

MARTIN: Although you can argue that both of those attitudes come from a place of concern - right? - like, the community spirit involved in taking care of everyone's kids. And at the same time, it's an anomaly to see young kids walking around having this kind of freedom that that, in turn, creates a situation where people are more concerned. And it's a red flag.

MILLNER: I think it's disingenuous for people to think that children are no longer latchkey kids. There are plenty of kids whose parents work during the day, and who can't be there with their kids who may have to walk home from school and may be a little younger than we want them to be.

There is the one example the woman out in South Carolina who was actually arrested because she was at work at McDonald's and didn't have child care for her 9-year-old. So her 9-year-old was out playing in the park. Someone called the cops and said this child is playing by herself. And that mother got arrested and charged and had her child taken away from her. So it's one thing to talk about this sort of my kid is a free range kid, and I want my child to have independence. But I think we can't forget the fact that there are plenty of parents out there who really have no other choice.

MARTIN: Free range isn't just a philosophy. It's a reality.

MILLNER: Absolutely, it's a reality.

MARTIN: Katie, let me ask you, are there - have you made a decision that you, in retrospect, perhaps regret or wish you had handled differently? Have you let your kids too far afield at any point?

ARNOLD: I take my daughter skiing, my older daughter. And, you know, there was one moment when we were skiing, and she wanted to zigzag through the trees. And I'm just sort of watching her, you know, from behind yelling "slow down." And there's that moment when you realize, you know, you're just going to always be a little bit behind them yelling "slow down." And that's kind of what childhood and growing up is about.

MARTIN: Denene, can you give me an example of a moment that represents a gray area for you in your decision-making? Perhaps a situation where you were really involved or keeping your kids really close, and perhaps you could have given them a little more freedom?

MILLNER: I think my daughter, my 15-year-old, who is about to be 16, is in this sort of sweet 16 party, you know, part of her life now. May think that I'm a little too hands-on. Her father and I have had to back off just a little bit and allow her to go out and be social with her friends without the watchful eye of her parents. And this is new for us. So we have eased up a little bit, but I don't allow house parties because I don't, again, trust other people.

MARTIN: Any closing thoughts from either of you on this?

ARNOLD: Yeah. It's interesting, Denene, to hear you speak about your children who are older and, you know, my girls are quite a few years away from that. But I really appreciate what you're saying because I anticipate that socially I'm going to be a little bit stricter than I am in the outdoor world. I mean, we were given great liberties in the fresh air. You know, but my parents were quite strict. Again, what you were saying about house parties. Forget it, no way, you know, nothing out on a school night. And I think we go with, in many cases, with what we know and what we knew as children. And that shapes us so much as parents.

MARTIN: Katie Arnold is a freelance journalist. She writes a blog on raising adventurous kids for Outside Magazine. She talked to us from Santa Fe, New Mexico. Denene Millner is a freelance journalist who writes a parenting blog called My Brown Baby. She joined us from Atlanta, Georgia. Thanks to both of you.

ARNOLD: That was great, thank you.

MILLNER: Thank you for having us.

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