Free-range parenting: reckless or responsible?

Saturday 17 October, 16.00 until 17.15, Frobisher 1-3, Barbican Growing Pains

The term ‘cotton wool kids’ has become part of everyday language. Indeed, many parents, academics and others share a concern that children have become over­protected. The worry is that youngsters no longer have enough freedom to explore, to get into scrapes, have accidents and work out how to deal with situations when they don’t have adults telling them what to do.

Discussions about this problem often focus on Mum and Dad: the blame, it is said, lies with irrationally fearful, overprotective ‘helicopter parents’. Yet when parents do try to give their children more freedom, they can face a great deal of hostility and even legal action. In the US, the parents of so-called ‘Free Range Kids’ have been charged with child neglect, while UK parents who let their young children cycle to school on their own have become the subject of protracted public debate about whether this is neglectful. Parents are told almost daily that their children’s health, welfare and safety are at risk, not just from strangers lurking in the park but from adults they know and thought they could trust, including family members, teachers, doctors and volunteers – and the apparently ever-growing menace of online grooming and abuse. Given this state of affairs, how could parents not end up being fearful and paranoid?

How should we, as adults collectively, think about how best to protect and care for children while at the same time challenging and testing them in creative ways? Why do we find it so hard to agree on a ‘commonsense’ approach to child-rearing? Are projects that focus on letting children ‘run free’ the answer? Or are these becoming just another parenting fad, accessible mainly to middle­-class parents who can weekend in the country? Is it possible, or even desirable, to change the way we raise our children in a more profound way? How might we find ways to develop character, determination and independence of thought and action in future generations? 

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Alice Ferguson
director, Playing Out

Dr Helene Guldberg
director, spiked; author, Reclaiming Childhood: freedom and play in an age of fear and Just Another Ape?

Lisa Harker
director of strategy, policy and evidence, NSPCC

Lenore Skenazy
founder of the book, blog and movement Free-Range Kids; “America’s Worst Mom”

Dr Ellie Lee
reader in social policy, University of Kent, Canterbury; director, Centre for Parenting Culture Studies

Produced by
Dr Ellie Lee reader in social policy, University of Kent, Canterbury; director, Centre for Parenting Culture Studies
Dr Jan Macvarish associate lecturer and researcher, Centre for Parenting Culture Studies, University of Kent; author, Neuroparenting: The Expert Invasion of Family Life
Recommended readings
Tick-box policy won’t raise free-range kids Helene Guldberg, spiked, 16 October 2015

My Free-Range Parenting Manifesto,

Helicopter parenting is crippling children and enslaving parents. Can a libertarian senator shake us out of it?

Lenore Skenazy, Politico Magazine, 22 July 2015

Helicopter or hands-off: today’s parents can’t seem to win, J. Bristow,, Conversation,, 9 June 2015

‘The government should butt out of parenting’

Nancy McDermott speaks to Lenore Skenazy, ‘World’s Worst Mom’, on her new TV show.

spiked podcast, spiked, 10 February 2015

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