I first heard this term on a t-shirt that read "Feral Free-Range Child." My kids are all too big and it's a bit snarky even for me, but I love the term Free Range. It's a breath of fresh air in the crazy, over-scheduled, over-hyped, over-parented culture we are raising kids in today.
Most days, my kids walk to school and home on their own. Our school is very close and they cross one neighborhood street. They also ride their bikes to piano lessons, which is about a mile away, get to soccer practice on their own, and have several friends nearby whose houses they can walk to. I would not trade the sense of responsibility and self-confidence they get from this independence for the comfort of getting them to these activities myself.
The saddest part about the thrust toward helicopter parenting is that it actually makes childhood less safe. There is power in numbers. Kids together are far less likely to be targets than kids on their own. The more kids walking and riding their bikes, the safer they are. Also, freedom helps kids develop self reliance, something lacking in today's generation. Why do you think there are so many kids moving back in with mom and dad after college? They've never been required to figure out life on their own.
Public behavior can be a problem in free range kids and I'm sure we've all seen how this can be true. Fifty years ago kids were given a tight leash at home and a loose one in public. This translated to better behavior in public. Now it's just the opposite. Kids have fewer requirements at home and less freedom in public. You've seen kids hit their parents, swear at babysitters, ignore people in charge, and destroy other people's property.
You are more likely to get killed in a car accident driving to school than your child is to get abducted by a stranger. But that correlation never makes it into the news. You are more likely to win the lottery, get struck by lightning and get kicked to death by a donkey. Our assessment of risk and danger is totally messed up.
Most rules and regulations put in place today are designed to protect the enforcer from liability. They have little, if anything, to do with safety. Just look at the way our boring playgrounds are designed. By the time kids are five there is nothing left to do on them.
We need a grass roots movement to take back our neighborhoods, build community with our neighbors, and send our kids back outside. So... anyone who wants a coffee and some pastries, come over to my house with your kids and we will sit on the front lawn and practice letting them run around the neighborhood.