Give child free rein - but safety must come first

Last Saturday's article ("Free-range parenting' in the land of the free") made me wonder if I have unduly cossetted my child.

While I would not consider myself a practitioner of "helicopter parenting", I must confess that when my daughter was in school right up to Primary 6, she was pretty much chaperoned everywhere she went - be it on the way home from school, to the neighbourhood playground or to her enrichment classes.

More liberal-minded parents contend that it is beneficial for children to be given the licence to roam free and navigate their way on their own, for they learn independence and get to apply problem-solving skills.

In an ideal world - sans crime and other perils - I agree there is merit in giving children free rein. Nevertheless, even in a country like Singapore, with its low crime rate, the alarmist in me baulks at doing away with the leash altogether.

Horror stories of children falling prey to molestation or, worse, depravity at the hands of paedophiles may be fairly rare here.

In an ideal world - sans crime and other perils - I agree there is merit in giving children free rein.

However, it takes only one such incident to shatter the innocence of a child irreparably.

Young children have also been mowed down by vehicles when crossing the roads unsupervised. Granted, that may again be an uncommon occurrence, but is it worth risking a child's safety for the sake of giving him some latitude?

In the article, psychology professor Louis Lichtman advised parents to consider how responsible and aware their child is about risks when contemplating giving the child free rein. This is sound advice, for children differ in temperament and maturity.

"Free-range parenting" can be better applied to some areas, such as allowing children to direct their own learning experiences without parents being in the driver's seat. The only "danger" posed to the child is the act of deviating from conventional norms of what constitutes success.

The physical safety of the child, however, shouldnever be compromised.

Marietta Koh (Mrs)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 05, 2015, with the headline 'Give child free rein - but safety must come first'. Print Edition | Subscribe