What's Your Parenting Style: Helicopter or Free Range? The Law may not be on your side

The terms “helicopter parents” and “free range parents” have been used a lot in the media lately — and for good reason. Parents are seldom accused of neglect because of their choice of parenting style, however, national headlines have shown advocates of the free range philosophy ending up behind bars.

Free range parenting (also called simplicity parenting and slow parenting) is a parenting style in which few activities are organized for children. Instead, the parents allow the kids to explore the world at their own pace. For instance, free range parents may allow their kids to take long walks on their own.

That was the case this past December when the parents of 10- and 6-year-old children who were allowed to walk a mile home from a Silver Spring, Maryland park were investigated for neglect. The police stopped their son and daughter half-way through their walk home. The parents say they’re responsible parents who are teaching their children self-reliance and responsibility, in alignment with free range parenting. To no avail, the father was forced to sign a safety plan with the county pledging he would not leave his children unsupervised.

Last August, A Florida woman who let her 7-year-old son walk alone to a park was charged with felony child neglect. The Port St. Lucie mom was arrested after her son was found by police alone in a park less than a half-mile from their home. The child was given permission to be there by his mom and always had a cell phone with him.

A number of child neglect arrests are gaining attention nationwide, with some onlookers arguing local authorities are overstepping bounds in arresting parents for child-rearing decisions that wouldn’t have merited thought a generation ago.

While legal definitions of child abuse are pretty clear-cut, neglect is a little bit murky and requires a judgment call most of the time. The question is about the impact on the child. It’s a question about whether a child suffered actual harm or was put in imminent danger because of a parent’s style of parenting.

Florida’s child neglect statute has no age written into the law. Many states do not specify an age at which a child can be legally left at home or allowed to go places alone. This leaves some parents unsure of when it’s appropriate or even legal to leave a child unsupervised.

Parents who are raising their children to be strong, independent thinkers and to have the freedom to explore are nervous they could get criminally charged for something without knowing what they’re doing wrong.

Helicopter parents, on the other hand, aren’t often in the headlines because they’ve found themselves on the wrong side of the law, yet they’re no strangers to controversy. These parents who pay extremely close attention (or hover) to a child’s experiences and problems often start off with good intentions, but things can deteriorate quickly. Helicopter parenting has many benefits for a child, such as increasing feelings of love and acceptance, building self-confidence, and providing guidance and opportunities to grow. The problem is when overly-intrusive parents take on far too much responsibility for their child’s choices, behaviors, successes and defeats. They work tirelessly to line things up in such a way that the child will have a perfect life, free of heartache and rejection.

Within this discipline, the child is taught not to experiment with self-directed decisions and this fosters what can be a crippling over-reliance on parents. When defeat inevitably presents itself, the child does not know how to deal with it and will be unable to cope with failures in later life. While doing nothing illegal, proponents in this camp can do real damage to their kids.

No matter what your parenting style — hard work and common sense are paramount. These days, your fellow citizens, authorities, courts and media are becoming more involved in our child-rearing. Know your rights and do your best to help your kids turn into productive, happy and responsible young adults.

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