What is 'free range parenting'?
Giving children the freedom to make their own way to the shops, park, school or friendsâ homes may 'nurture a more empowered child'.
Primary school principal Tim Berryman knew he'd succeeded when two of his students walked to the bakery by themselves.
The siblings, aged six and eight, left home early one morning and returned with a loaf of bread.
This show of independence came a day after the Fitzroy Community School principal delivered a speech urging parents to be brave and give their children more freedom.
At the school’s end-of-year concert, Mr Berryman challenged parents to let their children walk to the shops, park, school or friends’ homes without an adult.
“We don’t need to reflect for long to consider all the disasters that could befall our children in the park, travelling to school, or going to the shops,” he told parents at the independent alternative primary school.
“If we are aware of the cost of going with this fear, and instead keep it in check, we will help to nurture a more empowered child, laying the ground for a more empowered adult.”
Mr Berryman was inspired to write the speech after watching parents drive their children everywhere. He was concerned about the rise of the helicopter parent.
“As a child, I was always walking off to the shops, or tennis training after school or the cricket club. I was watching children being driven to all those activities ... I got there by myself on foot or bicycle.”
The speech clearly struck a chord. Mr Berryman said some parents decided to let their children travel to school independently for the first time this year.
Queensland University of Technology education lecturer Dr Rebecca English said parents’ fears were legitimate.
“A lot of parents are worried about stranger danger,” she said.
“There’s also a lot of fear about what if a child forgets how to get to school or forgets their bus pass.”
But these fears are not the main reason parents refuse to let their children go out alone.
Research released last year found that disapproval from other parents, friends and teachers was the main reason parents were reluctant to let children walk to school or play in the neighbourhood by themselves.
Many academics, including Dr English, believe that not giving children freedom is damaging.
“If we don’t let children have some danger, and fear, you are not allowing the human brain to develop to the full potential," she said.
Mary O'Carroll started letting her eldest son, Sol, catch the tram to school when he was eight.
“He felt respected,” she said. “He was overjoyed about having that responsibility.”
The trip from the family’s Preston West home to Fitzroy Community School takes 30 minutes.
Sol learnt how to cross roads, use a myki and encountered colourful characters on Melbourne's public transport system.
During the later years of primary school, his younger siblings Romany and Hilly joined him for the daily commute.
When Sol turned nine he started taking Romany and Hilly, who were then six and four, to the park across the road from their house.
But the children were regularly approached by adults who told them to go home.
On one occasion, a concerned stranger knocked on Ms O'Carroll's door and said, "Do your realise your children are at the park?"
"I said 'Yes' and they said, 'Are you OK with that?' and I said 'Yes'," Ms O'Carroll recounted.
"So often we treat children like they can't do anything on their own but kids are so smart and competent."