Overprotecting has gone overboard. Children can’t build confidence if we never let them out of our sight.
Trusting kids with some independence to get around, deal with minor risks, and make some good and not-so-good decisions — all this is “scary for parents today in a way it wasn’t for previous generations,” writes Emine Saner (gotta love that last name!) in The Guardian. Overprotecting kids has become the norm — and the problem.
She quotes our own president, Lenore Skenazy, who says that’s exactly why she co-founded Let Grow. Our goal is to promote childhood independence through school programs (free!), materials for parents, and legal advocacy. Says Lenore:
“I was concerned that it’s becoming weird to let your kids outside without either an adult, a cell phone or a GPS of some sort. Kids spend four to seven minutes outside in unstructured, unsupervised time a day here in America.” She points to a British study that found today’s parents were allowed to play outside unsupervised from the age of nine. Now it’s 11. “That’s such a giant leap, or step backwards, in one generation. So you’re not letting kids out until they’re hitting puberty? That’s unprecedented.”
Cooped-up kids are forgetting there is a world beyond their room
The academic who actually conducted that age-of-independence study, University of Exeter Child Psychology Prof. Helen Dodd, is quoted in the Guardian article, too. She says that due to the pandemic, some kids have almost forgotten the world is out there to explore.
Sadder still is that this “forgetting” had already been happening before the pandemic. That’s because our culture has been shifting its focus from childhood independence, responsibility and curiosity to just one thing: safety.
How the obsession with safety is changing childhood
The relentless drive for safety does two things:
1 – It elevates minor risks to major hazards. For instance, the idea of a child even walking to the bus stop in a safe neighborhood is often considered unconscionably dangerous now.
2 – Safety also becomes the standard against which every other benefit is compared. So even if the walk to the bus stop is invigorating, independence-building, and/or curiosity-piquing, those benefits pale compared to chance a child could be hurt. It doesn’t matter how rare or unlikely the danger. Preventing it at all costs is the key.
And one of those costs just happens to be child development. Today’s kids are more anxious and scared than they would be if they had more time to explore and play. They need the opportunity to cope with some uncertainty, said Prof. Dodd. Skenazy added that a test of creativity administered since the 1960s shows it in decline since the 1990s. The reason? No time to create, thanks to an over-organized schedule. Free time is no longer free.
“We are not benefitting kids by overprotecting them” — The Guardian
The solution to this lack of free time? Simple! Give it back. Trust kids to deal with at least some of the same situations you dealt with as a kid. Let them fill some of their time with activities of their choosing, especially plain old playing.
As The Guardian article concludes: “We are not benefiting children, ether through parents overprotecting and over-monitoring them, or through society not creating an environment for unstructured play.”
If you’d like to give your kids some more independence but aren’t sure how to start, consider downloading our Let Grow Independence Kit by clicking here. It’s free! And if you are an educator, here’s how to get a whole class or even a whole school more independent: The Let Grow Project, which is also free (and easy to implement).
Here’s to all sorts of freedom!