For her latest Get Psyched Friday blog, psychologist Eleanor Mackey teaches us how mixing up parenting styles can be good for kids.
There has been a lot of discussion about parenting styles recently, with the “Free Range Kid” movement making headlines due to a set of young siblings being encouraged to move independently around Silver Spring, Md. without direct parental supervision. I’ve been asked what I think about the concept of free-range kids and what kind of long term impact that style of parenting could have on a child.
The thing is, like almost all other “parenting styles,” the idea of free range kids has some outstanding ideas and some fatal flaws. Adopted in its “purest” form, is more likely to be harmful than good. If elements were adopted as part of a parenting style that drew from many other theories, the outcome could be fantastic. Why is this? The reason is simple: parenting does not need to be a philosophy.
The Good in Free Range Parenting
Movements like free range parenting start with outstanding concepts like children should be taught independence, self-motivation, and the confidence to try something and succeed. Having parental support without parental anxiety can be critical to that success. I also love the notion that failure and consequences (e.g., if I choose not to do my homework, I might get in trouble or get a bad grade) are more powerful learning experiences without parental involvement. Kids of all ages thrive on being independent, and these are indeed important lessons.
One Size Does Not Fit All
Here’s where free range parenting, like other parenting philosophies, goes wrong -- one theory alone cannot guide your parenting.
There are many times when these approaches can cause more harm than good. Parents who hold too deeply to one approach and believe all others are “wrong,” are less likely to be flexible with their parenting style and are less able to change their approach based on environment or their own child’s temperament. For example, letting your kids roam in a dangerous area may be both harmful to their well-being or may teach them not to be cautious when they should be. If you have a highly anxious child, encouraging them to be independent and broadening their horizons is necessary, but forcing them to walk to the park alone might be terrifying and backfire.
Solution: Mix Up Your Parenting Style
So, what should parents do? Parents should consider all the traits they want to encourage in their kids, like independence, ability to adapt, social connectivity, etc., and parent in ways that encourage these behaviors. However, if one style is not successful they shouldn’t rule out alternative approaches -- be flexible! No one philosophy should guide us as parents, except for the philosophy of unconditional love.