BIG STUDY: Parents WANT to Promote their Kids’ Independence…but Don’t
Most parents believe it’s important for kids to develop independence in their elementary school years by doing things “away from direct adult supervision,” according to a new survey by the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. But in a national poll of 1000 parents, the hospital found “a sizeable gap between parent attitudes and actions.”
For instance, less than a quarter of parents of kids ages 5-8 let them prepare their own snack.
Meanwhile, only half the parents of kids age 9-11 were willing to let their children find an item at the store while they shopped in another aisle. The majority were unwilling to let them walk to a friend’s home, or play in the park with one. Just 15% said they would let their kids trick or treat without adult supervision.
Good intentions vs. fear.
These results suggest parents “may be unintentionally restricting their child’s path to independence,” write the survey’s authors. “Some parents do things their child could do for themselves as a means of demonstrating dedication. Paradoxically, this ‘helicopter parenting’ can impede the child from gaining the experience and confidence necessary to become a healthy and well functioning adult.”
Parents do seem aware of this. But, the study found, they’re just too worried to loosen their grip.
The top parental fear? Safety. The parents of the 9-to-11-year-olds “worry someone might scare or follow their child.” However, only 17% actually felt they live in an unsafe neighborhood.
Judging and being judged.
Parents also worry that their child isn’t ready to do things on their own, or doesn’t want to, which seems sort of self-fulfilling. But then there’s the fear of being judged as bad parents, or having the cops called on them for inadequate supervision. And yet 25% have criticized another parent for not adequately supervising their child.
The upshot is that this generation of parents knows that their kids desperately need some autonomy. But they can’t let go.
Ways to grow less fearful.
Is there a way to break that cycle?
That is exactly the mission of Let Grow. We’re working to make easy, normal and legal to give kids back some independence. Let’s start with the legal part.
As the Mott study notes, some states investigate parents who allow their kids to be alone. That’s chilling. But “other states have passed ‘indpendence for kids’ laws to ensure that parents can determine when and where their children are allowed to be without direct supervision.”
These are laws that Let Grow has promoted and helped to pass in eight states so far: Utah, Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Virginia, Connecticut, Illinois and Montana. “Reasonable Childhood Independence” laws say neglect is when you put your kid in obvious, serious danger – not anytime you take your eyes off them. California is the next state in our sites!
Free materials for schools.
The other way to shift the “helicopter parenting” paradigm is by making it easy and normal for parents to let go. That’s what Let Grow is doing in the schools. We have a simple curriculum schools can access called “The Let Grow Experience.” And it’s free!
The centerpiece of The Experience is a homework assignment teachers can give students once a month, once a semester – whenever – that says, “Go home and do something new, on your own, with your parents’ permission – but without your parents.”
When all the kids in a class, grade, or entire school district are doing “Let Grow Projects” like walking the dog, running errands, or getting themeslves to school, parents have a little push to let go. That makes it easier. AND they have the added comfort of all the other parents letting go at the same time. That makes letting go NORMAL. Once the child does something new on their own, BOTH generations end up more confident and the culture starts to change.
“I had no idea my kid was ready to do this!” is the comment we hear second-most often. More often? “I’m so proud!”
One girl’s story.
Last month I visited a school in Las Vegas where almost all the kids were doing The Experience. Kindergarteners were riding bikes, feeding their pets, and making a whole lot of their own peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
Older kids were visiting friends, cooking meals, running errands. That included one little girl who wrote this essay about her first Let Grow Project (in her exact words):
“This is my fist let gow project. I canpleted my project on September 11, 2023. I went shoping by my self. The materials I needed were a phone to tack a picksher a list to know what to get and mony to pay. I handle it weel but the ceckout was a little hard but it was fun to do. I learnd that I am brave and can go shop by my self. I loved my porject.”
That girl is a fifth grader in special ed. But now she is also the kid whose parents trusted her with a grown-up task. The kid who went on a hero’s journey. The kid who discovered she is brave.
I suspect her parents are braver now, too.
A way forward:
The Mott survey documented a truth about this moment in America: We don’t mean to be stunting our kids. We don’t mean to be undermining their bravery, resilience, and pride. But thanks to inflated fears and stifling norms, that’s what, accidentally and collectively, we are doing.
“Some parents may be missing opportunities to guide their children in these ‘building block’ tasks of autonomy,” the study concluded.
It is not hard to start on a new, better, happier path if we just take a step back and let our kids step up.
Source: C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health 2023