Anything & Everything

January 23, 2015

The Perils of Modern Childhood

Filed under: Children,Daily Life,Parenting — Susan Morgan @ 11:45 am
Tags: ,

Childhood has changed. A lot.

ft-fr-kids-tree-climbI knew that already, though my youngest is 15, without running across this item from NextDraft, one of my favorite daily reads. Can you imagine the absurdity of a police investigation of parents who had the poor judgement to let their children walk home from a park near their home? The kids didn’t get halfway before the police were there to pick them up and drive them the rest of the way.

In a case of being the right people in the right place, these parents (Danielle and Alexander Meitiv of Maryland) were not grateful, chagrined or humbled at being caught exercising the proper care of their children. And they weren’t arrested like a South Carolina mother who let her daughter play at the playground while she was at work. These parents, to varying degrees, practice what my own parents did, a sort of “free range” parenting that allows calculated risks after careful planning.

We should all be cheering these people. They are trying to give their children an incredible, invaluable gift — an old fashioned childhood.

When I think of the walks my friends and I took… for ice cream, to the local mall, without fear. The overprotective, helicopter parenting style so popular today does the child no favors. It robs children of something so very precious, something they can never get back. Those unsupervised walks were some of the best times we had as kids.

The same author (Hanna Rosin) did a compelling Atlantic feature back in April 2014 titled The Overprotected Kid. She made the point that while so many parents today are busy keeping kids safe and sound, we’ve robbed them of the chance to be independent, take considered risks and learn things on thier own. They miss something so essential about childhood that when they become adults, they have no idea how to cope.

Now maybe some parents like that feeling of people depending on you… for me, after three (more if you count parents and pets), I’m ready for something else.

When I was a kid (and I’m not that old) we spent so much more time outside, on our own, unsupervised. We picnicked in the woods, far from anyone. We played in a open field without helmets or pads. We built forts and had kickball or basketball games in the street. Where you could fall and hurt yourself.

Sometimes we did, but most times we just had loud, free, spontaneous fun.

That’s not how things are anymore. Kids today grow up in a different world, admittedly a dangerous, geotagged, super connected world. I raised my own three children before the internet got so ingrained in our lives, so I understand why parents have this consuming urge to protect.

Because, no matter what, you never quite love anything like you love your own children.

But love and (over)protection are not the same thing. You do a child no favor by insulating him or her from the world. How can any person hope to manage if they live in a bubble, have no (safe) chance to test their skills against the world and come out on top? What will they do when you are not there?

I’m no expert, nor claim to be, but time has shown me that the trick of raising children who can someday function as independent adults is to practice the free range philosophy under a different name. My mother used to call it “benign neglect” and it involved providing a safe, loving haven but at times watching from a distance, allowing calculated risks, letting kids take a small measure of life’s lumps while being there to offer love, support and encouragement.

I’ll let you know how it all worked out in ten years, when my youngest is 25.


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