Do you let your kids roam?

Are you a free-range parent? 

Or do you, like me, fall into the “reluctant helicopter” camp?

Do you let your children play unsupervised, running around your neighborhood for entire afternoons without knowing their exact whereabouts? 

Would you let your kids walk home from the park even if it were a mile away and crossed a six-lane highway with traffic lights? 

Ever since Lenore Skenazy’s 2008 editorial for The New York Sun — titled Why I Let My 9-Year Old Ride the Subway Alone — went viral, many parents have been asking themselves these kinds of questions.

In Minnesota, where many of us lost a certain level of trust in our communities when Jacob Wetterling went missing from St. Joseph in 1989, it’s a complicated issue, close to our hearts. 

We fear the worst. We want to do all we can to protect our children from harm, of course. God forbid, we make a parenting mistake in public. Social media, today’s judge and jury, would have us skewered in a matter of hours for being terrible parents. 

But I have other worries, too: If I don’t let my child run free, like I did when I was a kid — despite the haunting tragedy of the Wetterling story — will my son enter the real world ill-equipped to evaluate risk? Will he fail to develop street smarts in time for the rough-and-tumble world of adolescence (never mind college)? 

Are our children over-insulated because we can’t manage our adult fears?

In this issue, writer Jen Wittes explores these questions, along with the cultural roots of our paranoia. She also shares the local guidelines parents might want to follow to avoid being investigated for child neglect.

Why? 

Many parents have been accused of neglect in other states for intentionally — happily and vehemently in some cases — letting their children exercise far more autonomy than their peers. 

Because, even if you’d like to become a bit more free with your parenting style, nosy neighbors and local authorities may feel a need to stop you. 

This is our world. 

As with all things parenting, it’s a balancing act. We have to make our choices — and live with them. As always, we never know if we’re doing it quite right. And it isn’t easy!