On the one hand -- wow. Two professors just wrote a whole book to take down the idea of Free-Range Parenting. That means we are at stage three of the famous quote ( that apparently Gandhi never said): "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
Anyway, here is an article by the authors, Professors Mattias Doepke and Fabrizio Zilibotti, that appeared in MarketWatch. It will remind you of the New York Times column we discussed on Friday, which recapped their arguments. What rankles most? (And maybe I should go read the actual book, but right now I'm just reacting to their article):
Our research backs up the notion that intensive parenting is associated with success in school. In the lingo of developmental psychology, “helicopter parenting” corresponds to an “authoritative” parenting style where parents interact a lot with their kids and attempt to guide them through challenges. “Free range” parenting would be called the “permissive” style, where children have a lot of freedom but also emotional support from their parents.
How are "authoritative" and "Free-Range" parents, as defined by these guys, on totally different tracks? I interact a lot with my kids AND I try to give them freedom and emotional support. So do the other Free-Range/Let Grow parents I know. What's more:
Specific activities correlated with child success are reading books with children, telling them stories, and discussing politics with them, although most likely it is less the details but the overall close interaction between parents and children that counts.
Since when does being Free-Range mean NOT reading books with kids, telling them stories or discussing things with them? I'm the gal who founded "Free-Range Kids" and I endorse all those activities! Sounds like what's correlated with success is being engaged.
But then we do get to a point of difference: The disheartening idea that the only way to keep kids from falling off the success track is to cram their days with goal-oriented activities, lest they "waste" their time.
Thinking of our own childhoods, in between occasional moments of creative discovery and play we also spent many hours watching mindless TV. One of us today is raising three boys who would be the first to admit that they would use additional free time primarily for playing videogames. Marathon Fortnite sessions are surely entertaining, but they won’t help much with the math test next week.
Somehow, the authors could waste scads of THEIR childhood watching TV and still end up at Northwestern and Yale. But today's kids can't? "Because the economy"?
The job market may indeed be more competitive today (although I have a feeling it always seems like the golden days ended right before you had to find a job). But anyway, it's possible their own "non-productive" hours led the authors to discover they love writing, or reading, or warning parents about not letting their kids waste a second on fun, because if they don't study non-stop and go to a good school they are doomed to live on a park bench, roasting squirrels over a garbage can.
Most of us would like our kids to do decently in school. We don't ignore most of the demands it makes. But we'd also like to have kids who love doing something for its own sake, not a grade -- kids who are confident, capable and quirky because they weren't programmed to be success-bots. (And won't a success-bot take their fancy job away soon anyhow?) (Just noticed -- "bot" is right there in one of the author's names!)
The flip side of the "Kids must be driven (in every sense) by their parents" is "Why are kids today so anxious?" And, "Why are they crushed by an A-minus?"
Moral of story: There are many ways to parent. Most will never fit neatly into one category. There also are many kids out there -- a whole generation of them -- who aren't just one thing: test-taking, quiz-acing, hyper-focused academic superstars.
They are humans. Free-Ranger/ Let Grow parents try to treat them as such. (So do most other parents, I'll bet.) - L