The Case for Free-Range Parenting

Why are Americans so afraid to give their kids room to roam? The op-ed page of Sunday’s New York Times featured a disturbing article about how little freedom kids today have to explore even their own neighborhoods.

At the beginning of each of my talks, I ask how many people in the audience walked to school as kids. Almost everyone raises their hand. When I ask how many of their kids walk to school, very few hands go up. We are doing our kids a huge disservice. Not only are we increasing their chances of obesity, we are prohibiting their motor and emotional development.

Rates of depression among children have increased significantly in recent years, in large part because kids are deprived of life experiences and problem-solving skills. A study by the University of California, Los Angeles, found that American kids spend 90 percent of their leisure time at home, often in front of a screen. Ironically, statistics show that our country is safer today than it was in the past. In 1999 only 115 children were victims of kidnapping by a stranger. At the same time, 2,931 children under 15 died as passengers in a car accident. Driving kids around is more dangerous than letting them roam freely.

The media has created an unnecessary fear, resulting in parents tightening the reigns on their children. As I outline in my new book The Blue Zones Solution, we are working in over 24 cities across the country to get people outside moving more. We are inspiring communities to expand sidewalks and make cities more bikeable and walkable. Many communities are creating Walking School Buses, organizing groups of kids to walk together to school. We must make these changes if we are to help our kids live long, healthy lives.

As kids, we rode our bikes everywhere we needed to go. That freedom made me who I am today.

Dan Buetter holds three Guinness Book of World Records for long-distance cycling.

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