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Jonathan Haidt Lets His 9-Year-Old Daughter Walk to School Alone for the First Time

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Read Time: 3 minutes

Prof. Jonathan Haidt, co-author of “The Coddling of the American Mind” and one of the three people who joined me in founding Let Grow, posted that lovely Tweet last Wednesday.

This was not just a great moment for the Haidt family, it is a great moment for all families hoping to give their kids a little more independence. By announcing this milestone in public, Jon is starting to re-normalize what was once completely routine:

Taking our eyes off our kids.

We need to hear about parents doing this, to break through the ice of fear. What I have been puzzling over for 11 years now is how come my nervous mom, who quit her job to stay at home with the kids, nonetheless did not immediately go to the darkest of dark places most parents routinely go to now whenever they think about letting their kids walk out the door without a security detail: “It’s not worth it to take my eyes off my kid EVER, because if they are abducted I will be bereft and it will be all my fault.”

This is what I call “worst-first thinking” — thinking up the very worst case scenario FIRST and proceeding as if it likely to happen. It feels natural but actually it is a recent cultural habit.  It is not NOT “innate.” Yes, worrying is innate. Love and caring are innate. But worrying constantly about abduction, molestation and death is NOT innate, as we can see from our own parents who weren’t obsessed with these thoughts, and from people in other countries where this kind of catastrophizing has not become routine.

Many of the people responding to Jon’s joyous Tweet cheered him and his daughter on. But some felt compelled to re-educate him: “If something terrible happens you will never forgive yourself.” Paralyzing fear is held up as the only moral choice.

The fact that, as a Washington Post article stated, “There’s Never Been a Safer Time to be a Kid in America” doesn’t seem to matter.  Nor does discussion of the downside of over-protection — kids becoming anxious, hypersensitive, depressed. No statistics or wise dialog can change someone seeing a coffin in their brain. The only thing I’ve seen that actually works is to replace that image with something radical: Reality.

How do we do that?

Parents have to be persuaded (okay, gently pushed) to let their kids go do something on their own. When the kids return home, glowing with pride or simply excited that their parents trusted them, THAT changes the parents. Because what IS innate is the knowledge that someday our children will have to survive when we are no longer here. Until they do something on their own, all we know is that they are safe because we are ever-present, protecting them. To finally see that your kids have what it takes to make it as independent humans, to carry on when you are gone, THAT is the game changer.

That is why Jon and I and everyone at Let Grow so recommend schools consider trying the Let Grow Project (students’ homework is to go home and do something without their parents). It not only gives parents the push they need to loosen the reins, it does so en masse. ALL the parents are letting ALL their kids do something, whatever the family chooses, on their own: Walk the dog, make dinner, run an errand. Like Jon’s tweet, the Project takes away the stigma of being the only parent letting their kids go forth.

And by the way, the Project is fast, free and takes almost no class time.

Below is one mom, psychologist Andrea Macari, who was amazed at how much more relaxed and happy her whole family became after her 8-year-old daughter started doing the Let Grow Project. The more we hear about parents letting go — and letting grow — the easier it becomes to do just that, and kick the habit of constant panic. – Lenore

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