Childhood anxiety is giving US anxiety. Nearly a third of American adolescents meet the criteria for an anxiety disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Even among younger kids, anxiety is on the rise. But as Let Grow co-founder, Boston College Psychology Prof. Peter Gray, notes, crime rates are at a 50-year low, so it’s not because the world has been getting scarier.
It’s because WE have been getting more scared. The media make us believe there’s a predator behind every pine tree. And so we keep our kids closer than ever, meaning they rarely have the kind of free, unstructured, unsupervised time that serves as a pressure valve. If we could only give kids back a smidgen of that freedom, would they feel less anxious – happier?
The solution is so simple you’re going to laugh, but it’s this: Have your kids do ONE THING on their own that you did at their age that you haven’t allowed them to do till now. Maybe let them ride their bikes to a friend’s house, or play outside in the neighborhood, or get themselves to school.
Our own survey of kids K-6 who did a “Let Grow” activity found that more than 50% felt happier afterward – and the parents experienced their own drop in anxiety.
Why? Because when fear meets reality, reality wins. All the worries swirling around in our heads get shoved aside by pride and joy when our blossoming child bursts through the door, excited and elated.
It feels great to be the wind beneath their wings, instead of weighing them down. That weight IS anxiety.
So how can you get started? Easy:
1 - Find a friend who is willing to do this seemingly radical, actually totally developmentally normal, activity with you. (If you’d like to find other Let Grow families in your neighborhood, join Let Grow – it’s free – and use our Zip Code-enabled friend finder, also free.)
2 – Ask the kids what they’d like their activity to be. If they don’t have an idea, here's a list.
3 - Set a deadline to do it by one week from today.
4 – Do it! Meet up with your friend, pour a cup of coffee, and send the kids out together.
You and your friend give each other moral support, and it’s more fun for the kids, too. One reason kids DON’T run around outside is because when they look out the window, they don’t see anyone to play with.
Then, with your heart gladdened, do us a favor. Tell us your story! Go to the Facebook page, No More Helicopter Parenting - Let Grow Support Group and share your experience. Please share it on your own pages, too, with the tags @letgroworg and #letgrow. That will inspire more people to try it too.