In the age of "helicopter moms" and "snow-plow dads," an alternate style of parenting, called free-range parenting, has emerged that loosens the reins on kids and puts them in charge of many of their daily lifestyle decisions. Some parenting experts applaud free-range parenting as a way to build confident kids who make decisions and deal with adversity, while other criticize it as a reckless and dangerous method of parenting.

Are you a free-range parent? Should you be? Here's what you need to know about the free-range parenting lifestyle to see if it's a good fit for you and your family.

Unlike so-called "helicopter parents," those who hover over their children, and "snow plow parents," those who seek to push all obstacles out of their child's path, free-range parents allow their kids to explore their world in their own way, at their own pace. That means kids learn to find their own ways to deal with adversity and to overcome obstacles — without their parents doing it for them. Adult supervision is limited to knowing approximately where your kids are at any given time — not sitting on the park bench watching them swing or holding their hand as they walk to school.

Free-range kids play in the playground by themselves or with friends. They walk to the corner grocery store without a parent's help. And they occasionally even ride the New York City subway alone.

In response to critics, free-range parents argue that allowing kids to make their own choices builds self-confidence, happiness and self-sufficiency. They also argue that there's nothing new about free-range parenting — it's how kids have been raised in this country for generations. For years, kids headed out with their friends after school or on weekends and were expected to come home only when the sun set. But as more families had both parents return to the workforce, supervised after-school activities started to spring up as a way to bridge the gap until parents got home from work. Then came the Internet, and parenting was never the same again.

In the past, when a tragedy occurred, such as the loss of a child, it was mourned by that child's family and community. But now, when a child is harmed — whether because of an accident or because of a malicious predator — the world knows about it. Photos, videos and interviews with experts steal the headlines until the next tragedy occurs and the cycle begins again. Around the world, parents mourn the tragedy, hug their own children a little tighter, and renew their vows to keep their kids safe by not letting them out of their sight.

Some say that free-range parenting is a rebellion against the mindset that kids need to be watched at all times to be kept safe. Others argue that allowing kids to walk around town or play in the park unsupervised is akin to child endangerment. In 2008, Lenore Skenazy drew accolades and accusations with her controversial column in The New York Sun, "Why I Let My 9-Year-Old Ride the Subway Alone." And just this past year, another free-range family, the Meitivs from Montgomery County, Maryland, found themselves battling police and Child Protective Services in a highly publicized court case in which the parents were charged with child endangerment for allowing their children — ages 10 and 6 — to walk home alone.

In the end, as with any parenting decision, it all boils down to what you and your family feel comfortable with. There's no one right or wrong way to parent a child, and as long as your kids grow up healthy and happy and loved, it doesn't really matter what parenting style you adhere to.

What do you think?

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