What’s Between Helicopter and Free-Range Parenting? Common Sense

May 30, 2013

As spring rolls on and the weather get warmer (and the rain dries up here in Vancouver), my kids are more and more eager to head outside to play. For the two older ones (8 and 10), this is great. They gather up their gear and vanish into the neighbourhood with friends. Living in a townhouse complex surrounded by trees and trails, the Free Range mom in me is more than happy to give them their freedom, and let them and their imaginations roam. With my youngest, Tara (age 3 ½) ... not so much. I may lean towards Free Range, but only when common sense leans that way, too.

Lenore Skenazy became the poster mom for Free Range child-rearing when she wrote about letting her nine-year-old ride the New York Subway alone. The press she received, both pro and con for what she had done, has led her to speak and write about her views on Free Range versus Helicopter parenting. If Free Range harkens back to the "good old days," and means you're comfortable allowing your kids out of your sight, Helicoptering is the radical opposite, especially when carried into your children's college years. I don't think either extremes are correct. Like any aspect of parenting, understanding your kids, yourself and your environment (and sticking to some sort of sensible middle ground) is probably the best tactic. What is interesting about these parenting labels is that while a parent may casually admit with no sense of irony that they are Free Range in style, I don't think you will meet a parent who would proudly identify themselves as a Helicopter. The negative connotation of over-protecting and babying your child seems to be more prevalent in the media, as well as in society, than the idea that Free Range equals neglectful or lazy parenting.

Which brings me back to the middle ground. Know your kids, yourself and your environment. I am unwilling to let my three-and-a-half-year-old run around the 'hood with only her older siblings to take care of her because personally, I don't think my 10- and eight-year-old are responsible enough (especially when surrounded by their peers). Hence, if my youngest wants to join the other kids in their neighbourhood rampages, I will go outside and "watch" from a discreet distance. Granted, this doesn't always protect her, as the last time they were all out playing, Tara ended up in the ER for stitches after acquiring a stick in her forehead. My helicopter was not hovering closely enough, obviously.

This brings me to my next point. Yes, the world can be a scary place. But while there are many things we can control - and as parents must do to protect our kids - much is beyond our control. Think about how you felt when you watched your kids disappear into their first preschool or kindergarten class. Going to school without YOU. Learning to deal with their world without YOU. Teaching kids how to handle the world without us is a crucial aspect of our parenting. My oldest kids LOVE their ability to go to our local corner store on their own, make their own purchases and have their own interactions with the people they meet along the way. Do I worry? Sure I do. That is what parents are supposed to do.

But I send them on their way, knowing that I have done my best to teach them SOME survival skills. I have taught my kids about road safety. I have taught them about how to interact with strangers - about being polite, but wary. Give your kids a fighting chance at living their lives without YOU being around them 24/7. Give them the chance to feel confident and comfortable in handling new situations. There is, I believe, a balance between Free Range and Helicopter, and it's called common sense. 


Kerry Sauriol is the Vancouver mom behind the blog, Crunchy Carpets. She has three children and sundry pets, and tries to balance it all while keeping her sanity. Her blog focuses on the juggling act called parenting - in her case, the act of juggling a preschooler, two burgeoning "tweens" and keeping everyone out of therapy when they're older.