The first step to social change is starting a conversation. So here goes:
What did you love doing most as a kid?
"We played outside!"
"We rode our bikes all over the neighborhood!"
"We stayed out till the streetlights came on."
And was your mom there with you?
Okay, okay. Everyone knows the answer.
Until very recently, kids were trusted to make their way. Childhood was a separate, almost sacred space where kids tested the waters, made mistakes, experienced joy and loneliness and fear and fearlessness, and then...left to join the world of adults.
An independent childhood may seem dangerous, or even preposterous today, and yet it is something to strive for. A measure of freedom, of trust, makes kids resourceful. Creative. Excited to be alive.
At Let Grow, we are trying to make it easy and normal again to give kids some of that freedom, and not just because it's fun.
- When kids are given some free time to fill, they discover their deep interests -- interests that teach them engagement, focus, enthusiasm. They are "self-driven."
- Kids running around on their own, not in supervised games, actually get more physical exercise than kids in adult-organized activities. They grow stronger (and slimmer!).
- Kids who may struggle with some aspect of their lives -- school, relationships, focus -- feel great relief and joy when allowed to do something for its own sake that is not graded or measured.
- Kids who make up their own games are learning the basics of democracy: Don't like a rule? Propose a new one. Get buy in. Hash it out. Kids learn they don't need a parent, an adult, or a lawyer.
- Kids long for more freedom. A much-discussed study at the Davos World Economic Forum found two out of three kids feel they are in too many organized activities.
- Kids are not faring well psychologically. Anxiety and depression have risen steadily for the past half century, as kids have come to feel less and less in charge of their lives. They are losing their "internal locus of control."
"Without an internal locus of control you feel like you are a victim of circumstances and powerful others, rather than someone who can handle your own problems, or deal with disputes." — Boston College Prof. Peter Gray, co-founder of Let Grow and author of "Free to Learn"
Parents and teachers already know this. Colleges, too, are seeing students more stressed and worried. The demand for campus mental health services is soaring.
By overprotecting our kids' feelings as well as their bodies, by being there to bemoan every bump along the road, our society has taught a generation to overestimate danger and underestimate their own ability to cope.
The good news is: This was done with the best intentions, which means that once our country begins discussing where we went wrong, it will be possible to change course.
Through traditional media, social media, blogging, lectures, contests, conferences and this website, Let Grow is starting this conversation.