This letter by Becky Diamond on her Psychology Today blog does not pull any punches. It begins:
My Dearest Marty, You are only in third grade and I feel like your future is at stake.
Anxiety and depression are crushing kids across our country. An increasing number of kids your age are thinking about self-harm and checking into hospitals for care. Suicides are up. Earlier this month, on our street in New York City, a twelve-year-old boy jumped off the roof of his building and died.
It’s pretty hard to get past that sentence, but if you do, you will be rewarded with wisdom and hope.
Diamond is a reporter — in fact, she spent a lot of time reporting from war zones — so she is serious about gathering information. And what she has learned, of late, is pretty much what Let Grow preaches: Kids need some space to make their own fun, and deal with some difficulties. Not that anyone is saying it’s a great idea to ignore kids, especially when they’re hurting. But it IS a good idea to trust them with some independence.
This is hard to do, Diamond notes, in our hands-on culture:
We are overly involved, keeping you so busy with adult-directed activities that you aren’t forming your own ability to problem-solve and manage stressful situations. We are so focused on hoped-for future results that we are loading you up with after-school and weekend activities that feel like a means to an end instead of child’s play. You don’t have unstructured time to explore and grow outside of the watchful eye of your parents, teachers or supervising adults.
She vows to give her son some more free time, because she has learned that resilience is like a muscle: you need to build it up. And — like muscles — no one can build them FOR you. You need to go to the gym. For kids, the “gym” is time away from adults, time when they get to make things happen and deal with some anger, confusion, the whole gestalt. (If you need some help letting go, our Let Grow Independence Kit has helped a lot of parents. It’s a free download.)
Then, being a mother, Diamond gives some motherly advice:
Get out of your comfort zone. Take risks. Opt-in to activities that give you butterflies and make you sweat.
That doesn’t mean her son has to grab a notepad and head off to a war zone. Just say, “Bye mom!” and head out to play.