Outdoor Parenting: Can Parents Take It Too Far? | Opinion – Deseret News | Wonder Mind Kids

It’s time to make “parent” a verb again.

What does it mean for parents (v)? It means actively setting and enforcing rules, boundaries, and expectations for children—and disciplining a child who transgresses those parameters. This is an idea that some millennial parents are deeply uncomfortable with, and there are some who will go to extremes to have absolutely no rules.

Writing for the New York Post, reporter Emily Lefroy describes how a Texas mother, Mara Doemland, raises her four children with no rules about food, dress or appearance. This means that between the ages of 2 and 9, children can eat whatever they want, shave their heads, wear whatever they want (or not, in the case of shoes) and even drink coffee.

Lefroy writes: “The Doemlands are one of many families who have chosen a more lax life rather than rigid rules. On TikTok, some families promote “gentle parenting” where children are neither punished nor rewarded, while other parents swear by the concept of “sittervising” their children — a term that describes children being able to play together without parental intervention.

Lefroy calls the practice “free-range parenting,” a description that offends the creator of the free-range movement. Lenore Skenazy, the founder of Free-Range Kids and her nonprofit arm, Let It Grow, told me, “Free-range parenting isn’t about no boundaries, no discipline, or no rules. It’s about giving our children some of the independence that has vanished from childhood. If you think back to your childhood, you probably had some time to just play, explore, ride a bike, find things out without constant adult supervision or support.”

Skenazy inadvertently used the same word I did when describing the “style” of raising people like Doemland, considering the children to be “wild” rather than free-roaming.

She continued, “We believe in taking a step back, but we’re not completely stepping out of the picture. Free range is not wild. It’s not “come home when you’ve destroyed your dinner”. It gives children some free time that is not entirely filled with organized activities.”

While Doemland’s example is extreme, it is a parenting style that is becoming mainstream: letting children set the tone in their household. Family meal choices are based on what is “kid friendly.” Everything from bedtime to screen time rules to clothing choices is now made by the committee in consultation with the children. It is education by consensus.

Why do parents go this route? Doemland explained that her kids choose their meals — “even if that doesn’t include leafy greens on their plate and extra dessert.” Isn’t it easier to give up than to fight? But laziness isn’t the only reason millennial parents let their kids take over and fill in as their own parents, even though their underdeveloped brains are unprepared for the task.

Doemland explained that choosing this style of parenting stemmed from her feeling that she was “stingy” early in her eldest child’s life. That makes sense: It’s more fun for everyone to have fun than “mean.”

Firmly in the millennial generation, Doemland embodies the ethos of the trophy mentality of “participation” that plagues so many of our day. Instead of being declared winners and losers, we all got trophies so nobody dared to feel any negative emotion related to losing. Even as children, we were protected from feelings of loss even when we played sports, and now these children have grown into adults uncomfortable with their children thinking they are “mean.” No, it’s better to let kids choose their own food or go barefoot to the supermarket than to be labeled “mean” by a 4-year-old.

But what is perhaps more pleasant does not mean that children end up being both emotionally and physically healthy at the end of their childhood. Children who are given the freedom to eat whatever they want are almost certainly not making healthy choices for their short- and long-term health, and children who are never taught boundaries will find it impossible to fit into the adult world to find their way around if they were never given the experience as children.

As Millennials’ children have come of age, children raised by parents who refused to set appropriate boundaries, they face exploding anxiety and depression. Obviously something is wrong with how we are raising the next generation. Parents like Doemland are an extreme example of a generation unable and unwilling to be active parents, but there are striking and undeniable similarities between them and the way millions of other millennial parents are raising their children. Doemland is tabloid fodder, but she should also serve as an avatar, warning against the culture of permissive parenting that’s pervasive in her generation.

Bethany Mandel is a contributing writer for Deseret News. She is a homeschooling mother of five and a widely published author on politics, culture and Judaism. She is the editor of the children’s book series Heroes of Liberty.

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