The ‘Free-Range Kids’ movement

We live in an era of fear of all manner of dangers, many of them highly exaggerated. This extends to many parents not allowing their children out of their sight. I have been interested in the so-called ‘Free-Range Kids’ movement, where parents are encouraged to give their children more freedom to roam the neighborhood and not have adults hovering over them all the time.

I have to admit that although I was a free-range kid, I did not give my own children the same amount of freedom that I had. Of course, I grew up in a different time and in a different place where safety from human predators was pretty much taken for granted. But there is no question that I bought into the idea that America was too dangerous a place to let my children wander around freely, although we live in a safe neighborhood where I have never heard of any child being harmed while being outside.

Jordan Klepper talks to people on both sides of the free-range movement.

(This clip aired on June 3, 2015. To get suggestions on how to view clips of The Daily Show and The Nightly Show outside the US, please see this earlier post. If the videos autoplay, please see here for a diagnosis and possible solutions.)


  1. dxdt says

    It’s an interesting concept. When I was a youth, we were outside, unsupervised, for most of our free time. And that was in a time when the violent crime rate was higher than it is today. But, I wonder how much of the change is due to “helicopter parents” and how much of it due to the children’s personal preferences? We didn’t have Facebook, Netflix, text messaging, etc. We had balls, bats, playgrounds and bicycles. I’m not waxing nostalgic here, I just think it would be interesting to see a study that compared the hypotheses.

  2. machintelligence says

    A book you might like by Robert Paul Smith:

    Where Did You Go? Out. What Did You Do? Nothing is a nostalgic evocation of the inner life of childhood. It advocates the value of privacy to children; the importance of unstructured time; the joys of boredom; and the virtues of freedom from adult supervision. He opens by saying “The thing is, I don’t understand what kids do with themselves any more.” He contrasts the overstructured, overscheduled, oversupervised suburban life of the child in the suburban 1950’s with reminiscences of his own childhood. He concludes “I guess what I am saying is that people who don’t have nightmares don’t have dreams. If you will excuse me, I have an appointment with myself to sit on the front steps and watch some grass growing.”

    From Wikipedia
    It has only grown worse since the 1950’s (which was when I was a child.)

  3. Chiroptera says

    We can’t allow parents to allow their kids to roam about unsupervised because it’s too dangerous, but we can allow parents to not vaccinate their kids against deadly diseases?

  4. says

    I think that adults should always be keeping an eye (or ear) on the kiddos, just for general safety reasons, but that’s not the 24/7 prevent-my-child-from-taking-any-risks kind of “supervision” that seems to be in vogue these days.

    Then there’s the flip side — parents who forget that “parent” is a verb. I’m all for kids being independent in age-appropriate ways, it’s good for them. But there’s a certain type of parent who refuses to impose rules or boundaries, and insists that their child is “just being a kid” and the rest of us should just put up with the child’s disruptive or even dangerous behavior. They fail to recognize that children NEED consistently enforced rules and boundaries to feel safe and secure.

    I was at the local library yesterday, and there was a kid about three or four-ish years old running around with water guns. Water guns. In the library. Not a parent in sight, of course…

  5. smrnda says

    Ugh, water guns at a library? When things like happen, it seems like parents have decided to drop off the kids at some public location, like a library, as if librarians could be enlisted (without warning or payment) as baby-sitters. In response, I’ve seen more places put up signs that ‘kids under X age must be with a parent or guardian.’ It seems that the art museum, on the free entry day, has also been a ‘place to drop your kids off’ and now needs the warning.


    When I was young, I got quite a bit of independence but that was because I lived in areas with good mass transit so once I had the pass, getting home wasn’t an issue. These days, I’d imagine you could give your kids a cell phone so that if anything came up, they could call, negating the need for the total surveillance. I’ve seen this work fairly well with parents I know.

  6. busterggi says

    Just had this conversation yesterday with my daughter who is due to deliver in August -- she and her husband are definately free-rangers just as they were raised. It allows freedom, diversity, creativity and the eggs are much tastier.

  7. anat says

    machinintelligence, I grew up in the 70s in Israel, and we had plenty of unsupervised, unstructured time. Mostly in summer and other school breaks, obviously, but on school days we were often out on the street at 4 o’clock (there tend to be ordinances against making noise between 2 and 4 pm, little kids and elderly people are supposed to be taking their naps then) until dinner time (regardless of season, so in winter it would get dark while we were out).

    My kid’s unsupervised, unstructured time often meant playing alone in the back yard or riding their bike around the neighborhood or exploring on their own. In part because there aren’t that many kids of their age in the immediate neighborhood and in part because they didn’t get along with most of the kids that were around. They were several years behind me and my husband in expanding the range they felt comfortable roaming in but mostly caught up in their teens.

  8. Ed says

    I was allowed to walk or ride my bike within a mile or so radius before dark. It was fun if I could avoid bullies. Either hang out with a friend, have some personal time without any demands on me or occasionally go to the local pizza joint to play ancient arcade games, play songs on the juke box and grab a soda.

    Not sure if I would have done that if I’d had today’s indoor distractions. But we had cable, I had friends with VCR s, and I had the Intelivision game console and some games(on a floppy disk!) I could play on the family`s ridiculously primitive but exciting back then home computer.

    None of that stuff made me stay in all the time, though I frequently indulged in it and also had to do homework and some fairly extensive religious studies and activities encouraged by my Mom.

    I’d say I’m pro-free range in the sense of let them run around. But some people use the term to mean this faddish ideology of an absurd lack of any structure blended with Luddite total prohibition of TV and computers.

  9. Kilian Hekhuis says

    One of the arguments against supervising I’ve heard from free-range parents is that the number of kids being actually kidnapped and/or molested while not under adult supervision is historically low, and therefore it’s safe to let your kids go without supervision (with regards to that specific danger). I’ve always found this a weak argument, as the close supervision of kids these days might very well be the direct cause of the low incidence of kidnapping and molestation (which means that when lots of kids go free-ranging, we may start seeing a rise again).

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