Created By: ayjazz1 on January 8, 2010
Troped

Free Range Children

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Generally in most modernized societies, children usually don't stray off too far from home without some sort of older guidance. Children that do go off by themselves from home usually don't go very far, perhaps just down the streets to visit a friend, a nearby venue that helps children use their services, or go to school if its nearby. If the child was to wander off a farther distance, the guardians or the parents would (usually) be quite worried and would probably even punish the child when he or she comes back.

In fiction, this fact is usually ignored. A good deal of fiction feature children that are from the ages of 7-9, sometimes in order to help them relate to their younger audience. At this age, they would fall under the situation mentioned above, however, they will wander about their town, the country, or even the world with little adult supervision or even concern. They'll ride down to their friends house who lives on the other side of town and even go to local venues that aren't anywhere close to their house. Hell, if plot calls for it, sometimes they'll go down to the next town by themselves, or even the next state or country with little to no outcry from parents, guardians or child protection services.

Sometimes, these children will have Open Minded Parents who practice Hands-Off Parenting, although other times they will be just like typical parents, except for the whole kids running all of creation thing.

Acceptable Break from Reality, as a show involving Timmy and Sally being driven everywhere by their parents, and only going out with their family (or their friends with mom or dad in close tow), with them ending their day in their rooms, only to repeat the process the next day wouldn't be very exciting. Audiences want to see their cast do something different, and there is only so much one can do about the home.

Trope doesn't count in shows that are set in the earlier to mid-part of the Twentieth century or before that, as children then usually ran about more so than modern children, as the concept of adulthood began much earlier back in those days.

A usual cause for this trope can be because Most Writers Are Adults. Compare Adults Are Useless, which shows up in this Trope for some works and compare with Toy Ship, which is when kids have relationships that wouldn't happen until they were several years older. Sometimes overlaps with Parental Abandonment and Wise Beyond Their Years.

Examples:

Anime
  • Pokémon: Ash is only ten years old, yet no one finds it strange that he can wonder about the world with other people of the same age. However, the show seems to be set in an alternate Earth, so cultural mores might be different.
  • Super Gals!: 11 or so year old Sayo is allowed to trail her big sister around the streets of Shibuya.
  • Digimon: the Digi-Destined are 10-12 year old kids who run around Tokyo with no supervision, unquestioned, as would be the case with many high schoolers.
  • In Neo Ranga, the girls range from about 10-18 and live alone without adults of any kind.
  • CreamtheRabbit is allowed by her mother to accompany her friends on quests to save the universe, despite being only 6. She has Cheese with her, but still...
  • Fullmetal Alchemist: Ed gets into the military with all the dangerous adventures implied at a very young age, but everybody is aware of this and many of the adults spend their time lampshading it and trying to protect him. Usually in vain.

Western Animation
  • Hey Arnold!: The kids in the story are about nine years old and in fourth grade, but they run about the city with little concern from their parents. Not to mention how many people know any fourth graders that act that maturely?
  • Doug The sixth graders seem to be much more like high schoolers, even though it is stated that Doug is about only eleven. The gang runs about their town with little concern from mom and dad, although Doug sometimes needs his older sister to drive him places.
  • Arthur: Many scenes in many episodes involve the main eight-year old third grader cast biking around the town (which was relatively large) by themselves, eating out at the local ice cream parlor, with no parents in tow. Looking at these kids, they seemed more like middle schoolers than elementary schoolers.
  • South Park: The kids are the same age as those from Arthur and have even more "adult" adventures, with little interference from their parents. There was one episode where Stan goes to New York to return a martini maker, and you never see Randy or Shannon questioning where their son has gotten to. Then again all of the adults on South Park have the Idiot Ball every episode.
  • The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Jimmy and friends, whom are in probably fifth grade, are given incredibly free reign, often making trips to space, Egypt, and the depths of the ocean with minimum interference from parents. There are a few instances where Jimmy is prevented from flying in his homemade rocket into space (Without a space helmet even!) before finishing his chores, but still, that is incredibly free reign. On a typical day, the kids will go down to the local fast food joint to hang out, and their parents are nowhere in sight.
    • Subverted in The Movie where the plot revolved around the kids feeling annoyed about the restrictions their parents keep placing on them. But really, the only thing they kept him from doing was going to a theme park on a school night, which really isn't that bad.
  • Kim Possible: She is only a teenager but her parents have no problem with her traveling the world and defeating evil masterminds, just as long as she doesn't go out with any boys.
  • Scooby-Doo: These meddling kids go around the country and even the world encountering ghosts and solving mysteries. This Troper has heard that they are only in their late teens. Seriously, where are their parents?
    • A Pup Named Scooby-Doo: Their parents are mentioned and even shown a few times, yet they hardly ever give them any restrictions, allowing them to run freely around Coolsville, running from creeps and unmasking them.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender does take place in an alternate world, but no one seems to be at all distressed at the idea of four kids under the age of 15 (two of whom are 12) surviving in the wild on their own during war-time. Sure, they'll occasionally receive aid from those who are loyal to the Avatar, but one really has to ask how they haven't starved to death in the weeks between cities, or died of exposure, etc.
    • I'm going to go with the fact that the older two are hunter-gatherers from a polar region who have already taken on adult responsbilities due to the death of one parent and prolonged absence of the other. The wilderness areas they're traveling through during most of the series are probably cake compared to the one they've lived in all their lives.
  • Danny Phantom: In one special, Danny, Tucker, and Sam go on a road trip without parent supervision. This is something typically done by college students. Or at least, you know, by people old enough to have driver's licenses (the characters are all 15).
  • The Simpsons: Depending on the needs of the plot.
  • Stewie Griffin from Family Guy: a one year-old who is able get his hands on the parts to construct superscientific devices and weapons and is frequently far from home, with little concern from Lois. Lack of concern from Peter is expected though. However, he's still working on how to use the toilet.
  • All Grown Up!: One particular episode involved the eleven-year olds Tommy and Chuckie going down to a warehouse in another part of town at night where two possible criminals could have been working, in order to protect Kimi. It was subverted at the end though, when it was revealed that the two characters they suspected of criminal activities were actually working for a charity drive.
  • Captain Planet and the Planeteers: The kids run all about saving the Earth, but we never hear any complaints from any of the moms and dads about what their kids are doing.
  • Rocket Power: The late elementary school cast runs all about Ocean Shores with little concern from their parents. To be fair, Ray tends to be pretty laid back, except when the gang really screws up, and Twister's parents, when he gets in trouble, just say to him, "We'll talk about this later." Sam's mom seems pretty fussy, but he still tags along wherever the gang goes.
  • Peanuts: Then again, adults barely exist except for the "wah-wah" speech in the cartoons, or a few brief appearances in a few of them.

Literature
  • Feeling Sorryfor Celia has a great version of this trope. The titular girl, who is herself a Cloud Cuckoo Lander, runs off to join the circus. The mother, who had been worried but expressing it strangely for a good part of the book, is instantly put at ease when she's told her daughter is just with a traveling circus, saying "Oh, the Circus! Why didn't we think of that earlier?" Another example from the same book is when a younger Celia and her best friend were planning on building a treehouse. Her mother is absolutely fine with the idea, no questions asked; however, the best friend's mother wants to know details. The two mothers get in an arguement over the issue.
  • The Babysitters Club, the eighth-graders are treated like high schoolers, while the sixth-graders are treated like young teens. They're allowed to run around New York City and Europe and take little kids sailing on the ocean, all without adult supervision. 11-year-old Jessi gets the starring roles in all her ballet productions, and was was left in charge of her 8-year-old sister and baby brother for a whole weekend.
  • The Famous Five: Yes, I'm sure there was less helicopter parenting in 1950s Britain, but letting a group of 10 to 12 year-olds go on week-long camping trips in various desolated areas with no supervision? I guess it's all right because they have the dog to take care of them.
    • This goes for the live-action TV version too.

Live Action TV

Newspaper Comics
  • Calvin of Calvinand Hobbes is more deeply philosophical than most 8 year olds, and is allowed to ride his wagon all over creation, because behind his house apparently there's some kind of national park.

Video Games
  • Mega Man Battle Network: Lan and Mega Man save the world left and right, and wander about it, but Lan is only eleven years old and in fifth grade (year or two older in later games). Lan's parents sometimes show worry, but he's still able to battle against dangerous criminals without being held up in his room.
  • Pokémon: Same deal as with the anime, the characters wonders about at a young age, with little concern from any adults. Although to be fair, the world is so small, that one chucked a rock hard enough, it could cross several cities.

Real Life:
  • Ranging from the tragic (third world countries where the eldest sibling must take care of their younger charges, due to dead parents, or in ghettos, where apathetic and/or drugged out parents make for kids raising themselves on the street), to the normal (some parents are less restrictive than others - there's been controversy over a mom allowing her children to take the NYC subway routes unsupervised, and I've heard many a person from the American South who learned how to drive by themselves).
Community Feedback Replies: 44
  • January 6, 2010
    Wacky Meets Practical
    These children will often have OpenMindedParents or MissingParents and will often practice Hands Off Parenting.

    • The Adventures Of Jimmy Neutron: Jimmy and friends are given incredibly free reign, often making trips to space, Egypt, and the depths of the ocean with minimum interference from parents. There are a few instances where Jimmy is prevented from flying in his homemade rocket into space (Without a space helmet even!) before finishing his chores, but still, that is incredibly free reign.
      • Subverted in the movie where the plot revolved around the kids feeling annoyed about the restrictions their parents keep placing on them. But really, the only thing they kept him from doing was going to a theme park on a school night, which really isn't that bad.
    • Kim Possible: She is only a teenager but her parents have no problem with her traveling the world and defeating evil masterminds, just as long as she doesn't go out with any boys.
    • Scooby Doo: These meddling kids go around the country and even the world encountering ghosts and solving mysteries. Seriously, where are their parents?
      • A Pup Named Scooby Doo: Their parents are mentioned and even shown a few times, yet they hardly ever give them any restrictions, allowing them to run freely around Coolsville, running from creeps and unmasking them.
  • January 6, 2010
    Caravelle
    The Famous Five and similar. Yes, I'm sure there was less helicopter parenting in 1950s Britain, but letting a group of 10 to 12 year-olds go on week-long camping trips in various desolated areas with no supervision ? I guess it's all right because they have the dog to take care of them.
  • January 6, 2010
    ayjazz1
    Anyone have a name that doesn't suck?
  • January 6, 2010
    Caravelle
  • January 6, 2010
    animeg3282
    This is a popular anime trope. In Super Gals! 11 or so year old Sayo is allowed to trail her big sister around the streets of Shibuya.
  • January 6, 2010
    TBTabby
    Cream the Rabbit is allowed by her mother to accompany her friends on quests to save the universe, despite being only 6. She has Cheese with her, but still...
  • January 6, 2010
    Unknown Troper
    • Avatar The Last Airbender does take place in an alternate world, but no one seems to be at all distressed at the idea of four kids under the age of 15 (two of whom are 12) surviving in the wild on their own during war-time. Sure, they'll occasionally receive aid from those who are loyal to the Avatar, but one really has to ask how they haven't starved to death in the weeks between cities, or died of exposure, etc.
    • In one Danny Phantom special, Danny, Tucker, and Sam go on a road trip without parent supervision. This is something typically done by college students. Or at least, you know, by people old enough to have driver's licenses (the characters are all 15).
    • In certain portions of Digimon, the Digi-Destined are 10-12 year old kids who run around Tokyo with no supervision, unquestioned, as would be the case with many high schoolers.
    • In Neo Ranga, the girls range from about 10-18 and live alone without adults of any kind.
  • January 6, 2010
    random surfer
    South Park - the kids are the same age as those from Arthur and have even more "adult" adventures.
  • January 6, 2010
    callsignecho
    Does this count?

    We actually see Miles Vorkosigan take command of a mercenary fleet at the ripe old age of seventeen, but Ivan and Elena reference NoodleIncidents involving surplus artillery and tactical tunnel digging, indicating that--despite being crippled and trailed by anxious bodyguards--Miles still managed to get into plenty of trouble as a child.
  • January 6, 2010
    LickyLindsay
    As I once mentioned in a comment on a different but related ykttw that eventually launched a different but related trope, this could very well be a case of the writers just being old enough to remember when kids did have more "free range" and maybe even not knowing how much things have changed (in the case of adult writers who aren't parents).

    It's only been in the past 20 or so years that the modern idea of parents having to drive their kids everywhere has firmly established itself in Real Life.

  • January 6, 2010
    Karalora
    [[quoteblock]]Sure, they'll occasionally receive aid from those who are loyal to the Avatar, but one really has to ask how they haven't starved to death in the weeks between cities, or died of exposure, etc.[[/quoteblock]]

    I'm going to go with the fact that the older two are hunter-gatherers from a polar region who have already taken on adult responsbilities due to the death of one parent and prolonged absence of the other. The wilderness areas they're traveling through during most of the series are probably cake compared to the one they've lived in all their lives.
  • January 6, 2010
    SevenOfDiamonds
    In The Babysitters Club, the eighth-graders are treated like high schoolers, while the sixth-graders are treated like young teens. They're allowed to run around New York City and Europe and take little kids sailing on the ocean, all without adult supervision. 11-year-old Jessi gets the starring roles in all her ballet productions, and was was left in charge of her 8-year-old sister and baby brother for a whole weekend.
  • January 6, 2010
    random surfer
    The Simpsons sometimes, depending on the needs of the plot.
  • January 6, 2010
    Caravelle
    Both played straight and kinda averted in Fullmetal Alchemist : Ed gets into the military with all the dangerous adventures implied at a very young age, but everybody is aware of this and many of the adults spend their time lampshading it and trying to protect him. Usually in vain.

    I don't know if the Vorkosigan example counts, as is pretty obvious all the trouble he got into was very much despite is parents' close supervision, not because of a lack of it.
  • January 6, 2010
    Unknown Troper
  • January 6, 2010
    Unknown Troper
    Tom Sawyer, as a very early example Saturdee, by Norman Lindsay (1933)

    congrats, you've brought up the whole notion of kids having adventures away from their parents. getting away from the parents being the prerequisite to having an adventure.

    i'm sure this was discussed on an episode first tuesday book club, or one of Jennifer Byrne Presents, but i can't find the thing to give the link to the transcript. bugger
  • January 6, 2010
    Unknown Troper
    Ben10 actually averts this, by having it be a summer vacation/trip with his grandfather and cousin. Or at least at first, this troper only watched the first bunch of episodes.
  • January 6, 2010
    Camacan
    Western Animation
    • Stewie Griffin from Family Guy: a one year-old who is able get his hands on the parts to construct superscientific devices and weapons and is frequently far from home. However, he's still working on how to use the toilet.
  • January 7, 2010
    Ilphae
    Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes is more deeply philosophical than most 8 year olds, and is allowed to ride his wagon all over creation, because behind his house apparently there's some kind of national park.
  • January 7, 2010
    notmypicture298
  • January 7, 2010
    triassicranger
    Just a note to say The Famous Five ought to be in Literature, not Live Action TV. That is all.
  • January 7, 2010
    Camacan
    Vote for Free Range Children as the title.
  • January 7, 2010
    Tannhaeuser
    How about Jeremy and Jemima in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang?
  • January 7, 2010
    ayjazz1
    @triassicranger, I "wikipediaed" Famous Five, and apparently it was a TV show as well? idk i'll put it in both for now.
  • January 7, 2010
    ayjazz1
    oh and I don't think the tom sawyer example would really count, seeing in his time, the idea of kids going off to do their own thing was a bit more common in those days.
  • January 7, 2010
    Caravelle
    I was the source of the Famous Five example, and although a fan of the books I've never watched the TV series so I can't vouch for it. Maybe they go on fewer solo (well, quinto) week-long trips in a gypsy caravan in the TV series.

    "congrats, you've brought up the whole notion of kids having adventures away from their parents. getting away from the parents being the prerequisite to having an adventure. "

    Well, there's getting away from the parents and then there's getting away from the parents. Lots of kids have adventures in the interval between the end of school and dinner, with the occasional sneaking around if necessary. During holidays they might have adventures all day, coming home for meals or again sneaking around. Or they have adventures somewhere where an adult is officially supervising but in practice isn't really, such as adventures in a big house.

    I'd say this trope is when you go further than that, especially if the parents don't seem to worry about it (i.e. no sneaking required). It also depends on the age, obviously.

    Hey how's this for an example : the entire underage cast of The Wire ;) (more of a deconstruction in this case...)
  • January 7, 2010
    ayjazz1
    @Licky Lindsay do you or anyone else know what that trope was?
  • January 7, 2010
    LickyLindsay
  • January 7, 2010
    Ilphae
    I just realized that the book Feeling Sorry for Celia has a great version of this trope. The titular girl, who is herself a Cloud Cuckoo Lander, runs off to join the circus. The mother, who had been worried but expressing it strangely for a good part of the book, is instantly put at ease when she's told her daughter is just with a traveling circus, saying "Oh, the Circus! Why didn't we think of that earlier?" Another example from the same book is when a younger Celia and her best friend were planning on building a treehouse. Her mother is absolutely fine with the idea, no questions asked; however, the best friend's mother wants to know details. The two mothers get in an arguement over the issue. Hilarity Ensues.
  • January 7, 2010
    random surfer
  • January 7, 2010
    Unknown Troper
    Shugo Chara. The elementary school characters have crushes on each other to the point of starting really creepy clubs.
  • January 7, 2010
    Unknown Troper
    I'm going to challenge whether or not the Peanuts comics should count. If we're just talking the comics (not the films, like Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown), there's really no indication as to whether or not the kids are supervised. The backgrounds tend to be so sparse that, for all we know, the majority of the series takes place on the various characters' front lawns.
  • January 7, 2010
    ayjazz1
    Hmm, you may have a point there with the peanuts comic...as with the show however...

    For now, i'll leave it in.

    By the way, I'm thinking about removing the romance text in the trope, as that seems to just be like Toy Ship. Anyone have any reasons to keep it? I've decided to remove it.
  • January 7, 2010
    Fanra
    Calvin of Calvin And Hobbes is more deeply philosophical than most 8 year olds, and is allowed to ride his wagon all over creation, because behind his house apparently there's some kind of national park.

    Calvin might indeed be this trope, however, the "national park" or his other "adventures" are implied to be all in his rich imagination. I think Clavin has a pretty normal childhood and doesn't have any more "range" than any other child. He just imagines he can go anywhere. Just like Hobbes is just a stuffed toy.

    Although Alternative Character Interpretation can always apply :)
  • January 7, 2010
    henke37
    Great, we have Natter already, and this thing isn't launched yet.
  • January 7, 2010
    Unknown Troper
    When I hear 'Free Range Children' I automatically think it's a canibalism trope.
  • January 7, 2010
    ayjazz1
    tbh, i really don't see a problem with some Natter, especially when the aspect that is being "nattered" about has something that goes with Your Mileage May Vary.

    To me, I rather see Natter, so I can see multiple viewpoints on a aspect opposed to just one.
  • January 7, 2010
    Wacky Meets Practical
    We probably need to make some distinctions to make this trope work. A lot of these examples seem to describe children who just act older than they should, which is Wise Beyond Their Years, while this trope should mostly concern itself with worlds in which children are given unrealistically light restrictions on what they can and can not do. This trope should refer mostly to how adults react to the things kids do and not so much with how the kids act since kids are likely both in fiction and in real life to do things that adults don't allow them to do.
  • January 7, 2010
    ayjazz1
    @Wacky Meets Practical. I see your point here. When I was going through such tropes like Wise Beyond Their Years, Toy Ship, and Most Writers Are Adults, this trope seemed like just like all of them, especially Most Writers Are Adults, when it should be focusing kids who run about with little restriction.

    Not that I'm pointing fingers at any of you. After all, I'm the one who keeps editing the YKTTW so it will include the suggested examples.
  • January 7, 2010
    Camacan
    Perhaps there are three main divisions:

    1. Kids with adult personalities
    2. Kids with adult abilities
    3. Kids with adult permissions

    There are works that have one or more of these, in all combinations.

    1 is Wise Beyond Their Years, primarily. 3 is this trope (hopefully -- agreeing with Wacky Meets Practical) Where does 2 belong?
  • January 7, 2010
    ayjazz1
    @Camacan Hmm...maybe 2 is a possible new trope? Lol.

    At any rate, I agree with you fully. This trope is 3.
  • January 8, 2010
    DEFCON1
    Real Life: Ranging from the tragic (third world countries where the eldest sibling must take care of their younger charges, due to dead parents, or in ghettos, where apathetic parents make for kids raising themselves on the street), to the normal (some parents are less restrictive than others - there's been controversy over a mom allowing her children to take the NYC subway routes unsupervised, and I've heard many a person from the American South who learned how to drive by themselves).
  • January 8, 2010
    JackButler
  • January 8, 2010
    ayjazz1
    probably will later today
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=btx6hpwmpb0lq1r1982qbzn8