The “Free Range Kids” Debate

The “Free Range Kids” Debate

Summer vacation is getting underway for kids. Undoubtedly, many of their parents already are planning ways to keep them active and outdoors during the break.

Some of these parents have adopted what’s being called “free-range parenting,” which is sort of a hands-off approach to raising active, independent kids. The efforts of these adults are combatting the following statistic: The average child in the U.S. today “spends between 4 and 7 minutes outdoors daily — a 90 percent drop from the time spent outside by their parents.” (This is according to dinosaur paleontologist Scott Sampson, author of How to Raise a Wild Child.)

Sampson also notes the following in his book:

“Regular exposure to nature can help relieve stress, depression, and attention deficits. It can reduce bullying, combat obesity, and boost academic scores. Most critical of all, abundant time in natural settings seems to yield long-term benefits in kids’ cognitive, emotional, and social development.”

There are many opinions regarding whether free-range parenting is a safe option for children, as evidenced by the diverse comments in this USA TODAY opinion piece. In this Boston Globe article, a child psychiatrist categorizes this type of parenting as no more dangerous for kids than the upbringing that many of today’s parents had as children. And this Washington Post story supports that assertion, pointing to recent drops in missing-child reports and instances of children being struck by vehicles.

When I was growing up in a small town in North Carolina, my parents thought nothing of us heading out the door after breakfast to play all day and not return until dinner (as long as we weren’t late!). For many societal reasons, such childhood freedoms are now nothing but memories.

Scouting may be one of the few exceptions.

Our first Bald Eagle Scout, Joe Kita, who recently earned his Eagle Award about 35 years after the age limit of 18, noticed how Scouts of the traditional age are “boys encouraged to be boys” roaming the woods, firing arrows, throwing tomahawks and getting muddy from head to toe. “Yet, it’s all supervised, but the astonishing thing is that it’s happening in real life, not just on a winking screen,” Joe observed. “In these days of free-range chickens and cattle, the Boy Scouts should be commended for raising free-range kids.”

These pure adventures are in Scouting’s DNA. Today, we’re helping kids explore their curiosity with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM); test their limits at our council camps or four High Adventure bases; and learn what it’s like to be a leader while serving their communities. We’ve even rebuilt our Cub Scouting program to give younger kids what they want for their first Scouting adventures.

All of these recent developments have been guided by our desire to deliver a high-energy Scouting experience that: 1) reflects today’s youth interests and 2) represents our key values and Scouting methods.

We know that outdoor activities like camping and hiking may not be for every kid. We get that. But in the spirit of free-range parenting, we hope today’s kids do have the freedom and opportunity to enjoy these or other life-changing experiences, and Scouting stands ready to show them the way.

Yours in Scouting,


Nathan Johnson

As a member of the Communications team at Boy Scouts of America, Nathan Johnson enjoys finding and sharing the stories that inform, inspire, and delight the Scouting family.


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The “Free Range Kids” Debate
The “Free Range Kids” Debate
The “Free Range Kids” Debate