Free-range parenting: How much freedom should kids have?

Children walk to school
Two children walked to school in the snow on February 5, 2014 in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York, United States.
Andrew Burton | Getty Images

'Free-range parenting' is the idea of taking a bit more of a hands-off approach to raising your kids. For some families, that means letting them walk home alone or allowing them to play outside without supervision.

Many parents feel this kind of parenting can be dangerous to kids, but others argue it's an important move to ensure that kids learn to fend for themselves and get a break from the constant monitoring of today's world.

Two parenting experts — Dr. Alan Kazdin of the Yale Parenting Center and Jennifer Senior, author of 'All Joy and No Fun" — joined MPR News' Kerri Miller to talk about the controversy surrounding free-range parenting, and the idea that parents should allow their children more freedom.

Callers contributed stories and personal experiences from both ends of the spectrum.

Kaylee in St. Paul admitted she had been a helicopter mom — not even allowing her two children to play in their backyard alone — but a trip overseas changed her strategy toward parenting:

We went to Europe for one summer and I saw kids taking the subway and the train all by themselves and they were even younger than my children... When we came back it really changed the way I looked at what I had been doing to my children and I realized I had enabled them so much that two blocks from home they thought they were lost and they were scared all the time that they were by themselves. It really taught me a lesson to let them explore a little bit in safe places and in safe amounts and they're so much more independent now.

But William in Minneapolis said he worried about his five children, and felt strongly about monitoring them at all times:

I've got five kids from the age 19 down to 2-and-a-half and they all tell me, 'Dad, you treat me like a baby... Dad you treat me like a baby!' Because I let them do what they want to do but, I'm always shadowing them. I'll take them there or I'll pick them up or make sure that I'm always in contact with them...For me to put my kids out there in a society where I know police are needed, because there are something like 35,000 abductions a year, I tell my kids all the time that adults get abducted every day. I mean my kid is really a vulnerable human being out there. They're not strong enough. They're not old enough to defend themselves if something did happen.

Rachel in Morris asked the audience to consider how different socioeconomic and social circumstances factor into parenting, and to remind listeners that many parents are forced to be free-range:

I had my son very young, I was 20 years old and a single parent. And I think a lot of the free-range versus not free-range debate comes down to socioeconomic status. If you have two parents that are high-income earners who are more able to carefully monitor and curate and make sure their child is well-tended all the time, it's a lot easier to do then when you're overwhelmed and you're working and you just can't keep track of them... You almost have to say, 'you take care of your plate, you take care of your clothes, you go down to the lobby and wait for Mom while she picks up groceries.'

What is your experience as a parent? Do you feel that your children have too much freedom? Not enough? Do you worry about what other parents think? Share your comments below.