This App Can Help You Become a Free-Range Parent

CC BY 2.0. Markus Spiske

It's like therapy for helicopter parents.

Are you a parent who struggles with letting your kid play outside? Do you hover nervously, warning him or her not to climb that tree, not to wander from sight, not to get dirty? If so, then help has arrived! is a wonderful resource developed by researchers at the University of British Columbia. It has an interactive app called 'Go Play Outside' whose goal is to help parents gain the confidence to let their kids engage in more outdoor play. Participants are taken along a Journey Map with three chapters.

Chapter One is a time for reflection, asking adults to think about their own childhood memories that stand out as being most influential and how those compare to what their child is allowed to do nowadays.

risky play

© OutdoorPlay - "Outdoor play is a basic childhood need and taking risks is a necessary part of play."

Chapter Two contains hypothetical scenarios, i.e. What would you do if you were sitting on a park bench and your daughter started climbing a tree, or if a group of friends invited your son to walk home with them. Parents are encouraged to voice concerns, getting to the root of whatever fear prevents them from happily accepting their child’s desire to play actively.

Chapter Three is a Plan of Action, where parents can enter their goals – what they want most for their child and what they’re doing to promote that.

The website has a good FAQ question where parents can ask those tough, awkward questions about fears of kidnapping, injury, and Child & Family Services getting called by nosy neighbors. The authors emphasize how the benefits outweigh the risks:

“It is normal and desirable for children to try something out when they are uncertain of the outcome. This is part of the thrill and also helps them figure out how the world works, how their body works, and what they like doing. These experiences help them develop their abilities to plan things, manage risks, develop their social skills, build resilience and promote self-esteem.”

It’s never been safer to be a kid than it is now, and parents need to acknowledge this. Placing limits on children’s freedom to play could have an enormous impact on their development, health, and wellbeing that’s hardly worth it, considering the low risk of worst-case scenarios actually happening.

It’s great to see a resource like this being developed. Rather than brushing off helicopter parents as hopeless cases, it provides practical, step-by-step advice for recalibrating one’s view of outdoor play and helping those would-be free-range parents who just don’t know where to start.