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Let Grow and “Independence Therapy” in The New York Times: Hope for Anxious Kids

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Read Time: 3 minutes

What if one of the big reasons kids are so anxious is simply this: They’re micromanaged by adults?

As we’ve often noted here, kids are increasingly in adult-run classes, clubs, sports. Or they’re inside on a screen, instead of climbing a tree or getting lost or talking to some lady on the bus.

“While there could be many reasons our kids are suffering, what if the problem was simply this: Kids are growing up so over-protected that they’re scared of the world?

“If so, the solution would be simple, too: Start letting them do more things on their own.” 

That’s what Long Island University Psychology Prof. Camilo Ortiz and I suggest in our essay in today’s New York Times titled, “This Simple Fix Could Help Anxious Kids.

A (free!) way schools can fight anxiety.

The piece talks about how schools can make it easy for kids to start becoming more independent by assigning The Let Grow Project — now expanded into a year-long Let Grow Experience. (All our materials are free.)

The Project/Experience tells K-8 students to, “Go home and do something new, on your own — with your parents’ permission, of course.” Kids can walk to school, bake a cake, go to the store — just something that they’d like to try, but haven’t yet.

When the parents let go, the kids come back changed. Really! That, in turn, changes their parents. As we wrote in The Times:

Teachers and parents have told us that kids’ confidence starts climbing when they participate.


For instance, a 7th grade boy pushed himself to go on a ride at Disneyland — something he’d been too scared to do before. After braving the child-friendly Slinky Dog Dash there was no stopping him — he went on ride after ride.


Another 7th grader, a girl who was afraid to try out for the swim team, decided to start by walking to church by herself. That made her feel very grown up. Then she got her ears pierced (with her parents’ permission). Then she started doing CVS runs for her mom, which made her feel responsible. And then, yes, she tried out for the swim team — and made it.


Sometimes the impact is a little goofier. Ever since her elementary school started doing the Let Grow Project, one principal told Lenore, “Fewer kids are sticking their feet out.”


“They’d been tripping each other?” Lenore asked.


No, said the principal: “Fewer kids are asking their teacher to tie their shoes.”

Is it…therapy?

The co-author of this piece, Dr. Ortiz, had heard about Let Grow. He’s a clinical therapist who treats a lot of kids diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Often he uses Cognitive Behavior Therapy, which asks the patient to face their fears. He wondered if instead, he could simply ask the kids to start doing new things on their own that they WANTED to do.

In other words, the treatment would be a mega dose of independence.

For a pilot study he conducted with PhD candidate Matthew Fastman, Dr. Ortiz met with five patients, age 9-14, and their parents, once a week for five weeks. (Not in a group. Each family was separate.) He asked the kids what they’d like to try doing on their own. They had a lot of ideas! Go to the park. Sell bracelets at school. Take the commuter train. Each kid did 10-20 things over the course of five visits.

Did it work?

It worked so well that Dr. Ortiz wrote up a manual for other clinicians. If you’re a therapist, you can get it here (free!). If you are a teacher or administrator, you can get The Let Grow Experience materials here (free!). And if you are a parent, you can take our Pledge of Independence here — for $1 million dollars.*

*Just kidding. It’s free, too.

We are thrilled that Let Grow and Dr. Ortiz are in The Times. Let’s hope this simple idea — giving kids back some independence — can make a lot of kids feel more confident and excited about being part of the world.

Please consider supporting Let Grow. Your donation will help bring independence to children all ove the country!


  1. JJenn Martinez says:

    After reading that New York Times article it all makes sense now why I get anxious. When I have children, I want to prepare them for the world, not shut them away from it. Independent milestones are SO important, even if it’s taking a solo-trip to the corner store to buy mom soup. I’ve never gotten those quests. The shackles got loose when I started taking long trips on the public bus to community college, work, and home, but my anxieties still lingered when I moved out of state transferring schools. I felt uncomfortable, like I shouldn’t be out for too long even if I had full control of my life. But man did it feel good to explore at my leisure, move at my pace, and organize things by myself.

  2. MMark says:

    I meant to congratulate you guys. Most impressive! I hope this makes a huge difference.

  3. MMark says:

    >Kids are growing up so over-protected that they’re scared of the world? –I’ve read of adults being anxious themselves: reflecting their failure to get proper upbringings. In turn obsessing over “dangers” and their kids, providing problematic role models. Or so I gather. I’d expect Let Grow to have uphill battles especially with parents racked with anxiety themselves; who grew up without proper boundaries; who are primed to perpetuate this in turn.

  4. CCary says:

    Great news. But I’ll never get used to the idea that it takes formal studies and experiments for Ph.Ds to begin to awaken to what every mom and dad knew, effortlessly, fifty or sixty years ago.

    I’m also amazed about “sticking their feet out”. My dad taught me to tie my own shoes when I was four, and I was competent at it within a couple of days. I never realized it was a complex task to be put off until adulthood. Maybe that accounts for so many young people I see wearing flip-flops.