Welcome to a day in my life. I can't guarantee that this will be an exciting read for anyone. My life is filled with all the mundane activities of a stay-at-home-mom just trying to raise her three sons to be the best men they can be.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Helicopter or Free Range?

I know that there are a lot of you who automatically know what that title means ... especially if you're a parent of young children.

I've been following the blog Free Range Kids which is written by Lenore Skenazy. She is the mother who got into some hot water by letting her 9 year old son ride the New York Subway home alone. (no, she didn't just set him free on the subway system, she took the time to teach him and prepare him for the task.). I've been following her blog with much interest because, in theory, I believe a lot of what she says. As a society, we have become helicopter parents - hovering over top of our children, not allowing them to become independent people. She has started the "Free Range Kids" movement. This is what she states:

"I believe in safety. I LOVE safety — helmets, car seats, safety belts. I believe in teaching children how to cross the street and even wave their arms to be noticed. I’m a safety geek! But I also believe our kids do not need a security detail every time they leave the house. Our kids are safer than we think, and more competent, too. They deserve a chance to stretch and grow and do what we did — stay out till the street lights come on."

Some of the things that I've learned over the last little while through this blog and other blogs really challenge the notion that we live in dangerous times and need to keep our kids close to keep them safe. On her blog, Lenore shares so many stories of helicopter parents that it makes your head spin ... do people really behave that way?
-a teacher wrote in telling about the countless parents who ask her to remind their children to drink throughout the day. Really? The first thing we humans learn is what it feels like to be thirsty and hungry and what we need to do about it. Do grade school children need to be reminded of this? I don't know when the last time I heard about a child dying because they didn't drink enough at school.
-there are the parents who leave their children in the car (children who are 8 years old) while they walk 20 feet away and end up in hot water because of it. (there was the parent who was arrested for doing this very thing.) I've done it. I wasn't concerned for their safety, but I was looking over my shoulder to see if someone saw me and was going to make an issue of it.
-there are parents who sterilize everything their children touch .... for years! Really! I stopped doing this as soon as my babies started putting things in their mouths ... and that was under my doctor's recommendation. As soon as they can put things in their mouths, there's no way you can protect them from germs. My boys were always very healthy ... and I kinda think that may be why. They had a great immune system because their bodies had a lot of opportunities to build up resistance to lots of germs.
-there are school systems who don't allow students to carry umbrellas to school because someone could have an eye poked out (how ridiculous is this? does that mean they don't allow pens and pencils too?)
-there's the mom who was arrested for allowing her 12 - year old take her younger siblings to the mall
-there are the parents who are fighting to keep a facility for people with Alzheimer's out of their area because they think they will hurt or scare their children

The stories can go on an on! In reality, though, our children today are far more safe than children were 40 years ago, and yet we have this need to hover over them and fear for them whenever they are out of our sight.

A new study reveals that Helicopter parenting can cause neurotic kids. (I don't think I needed a study to tell me that, but there you go.) Go here to read more on that.

I remember watching an Oprah Winfrey show in the last year. On this show we got to meet four or five women from different parts of the world and see how they live, and what they think. Oprah went to visit a woman in Denmark (apparently these people are the happiest people on earth.) In the conversation the young mother told Oprah that babies are put outside to have a nap during the day. Wow! It's just like it was when I was young. Mother's don't have fears of their babies being snatched there. In fact, the young mom said "why would someone want to take a baby?" When I thought about this later, I don't think that things are necessarily safer in Denmark than they are here, people just don't have the irrational fears that seem to dominate North American lives.

As I said, I agree, in theory, with free-range parenting. I would like to think that I have allowed my children the freedom they need to grow and become intelligent, independent people. However, it's not something that has been easy for me to do. In reality, I'm sure my parenting style lies somewhere between the two.

With Matt, having Nonverbal Learning Disorder, has required me to do a lot of hovering and helping him to interpret his environment and navigate the very confusing social aspects of his life. At 20, I still have to be around, but I don't hover near as much. I'm standing much more in the distance, and watching to see how he does.

With the other two, I have considered myself to be interested, and involved, but not over protective. I'm sure they may say differently and may say that I have hovered a little too much. I can look at them now, and see the wonderful, confident people they are becoming and know that they are well prepared for the next stages in their lives (assuming Spencer can actually get out of bed on time.)

So? What about you? Are you a Free-Ranger, or a Hoverer?


  1. I have not visited that blog,but I did grow up with one and witnessed both types.
    Working in retail you "see" a lot.
    I do think today's society is very paranoid and overprotective.The media has helped that along. My parents did the "free range" with limits.
    Some of today's children are not as independent as we used to be.
    Very interesting topic!

  2. @JOY
    I totally agree with you that the media has done a lot to make us a fearful society.
    I remember when I was five, we would go out first thing in the morning and come back in when we were called for supper. We would spend the whole time playing down in the woods.

  3. Hi Barbara,
    I think I'm free range with limits. Rick and I were both anxious when daughter Kayla (22 years old) announced her plans to spend the summer in Europe. I think we tried to remain calm, and were pleased to see how much planning she put into it. Now we just pray that she will continue to be safe!

  4. Parenting involves a lot of common sense and patience. Neither over protection parenting nor laise-faire parenting is healthy for the child or the parent. Our children need judicious opportunities to grow, to stretch their wings and grow, and also allowed to fail.

    Our children naturally desire to be independent. It is the parent who has to judiciously allow them to become increasingly independent, to take on greater freedom and preparing them for the responsibilities that come with such freedom.

  5. Great post Barbara! Very interesting. I guess I'm going towards the free-range side with some limits too. I'll go have a look at the blog. Thanks for sharing. :)

  6. @Joyce
    How exciting that Kayla gets to experience Europe like that. I'm sure her confidence is due to the type of parenting she has recieved all through her life.

  7. @Dave

    Cameron and I were talking about this very thing the other day. He's wanting more freedoms and we talked about how he will be given more freedoms as he shows us that he's responsible with the freedoms he has right now.

  8. @Nathalie

    Thanks Nathalie. I'm sure you'll really enjoy that site. There's so much info there.

  9. karen rothfus4:08 PM

    Funny I never thought of it like this, but I too get some looks when I let me ten year old go three blocks over on his bike to visit his friends (his friends parents would never let theirs do the same.) Or down to the store to buy a candy bar(he could only find one friend who was allowed to go with him and he does have to go with a friend)....In fact in Mammoth this winter he did not meet his dad at the apptd time and we began to worry and fret and finally called out the cavalry to start looking, only to find him at the condo door. He had gotten the meeting site mixed up and decided to take the bus home himself....The funny thing is my 17year old did the same when he was 10. and now has no problem going miles away for a school project or go to the beach for the day.
    I love it when they navigate the world by themselves, isn't this what our job as mothers is; to teach them enough so they can go beyond the boundaries of their childhood and succeed in their own world.

  10. I am like you... somewhere in between. Both my kids have anxiety issues (with different root causes), so I support them as much as they need me to, but I try to push them to try new things, and they, at ages 7 and 9, started walking the 1-km route to school alone this year.

    On the note of leaving 8-year olds alone in parked cars, I did that exact thing on the weekend... the parking lot was nearly empty, and the store was only 10 metres from where we'd parked... I walked in to exchange something, and the transaction took a total of one minute. Somebody approached me and gave me shit (firmly but politely). I listened, nodded and rolled my eyes behind my sunglasses. I know my kid well enough, and I firmly believe that a child who's old enough to walk to school alone is old enough to sit in a car (windows were down, thank you VERY much!) for a few minutes at a time.

  11. oops, that last comment was from me. :)

  12. I am definitely a free range with limits. I always required the phone call letting me know my DS arrived safely and it was respected. I allowed him to do things but within a certain limit. I would not have allowed him to ride the subway alone at such a young age even though I know he probably could have handled it. This was a very interesting topic and I will be checking her out more!

  13. @Barb
    Barb, I had that same thing happen to me when I got out of my car at the airport and walked about 30 feet to read a sign. The security guard read me the riot act about leaving my children in the car alone where someone could car jack the car with them in it. I didn't say anything, but all the while thought "I didn't realize car jacking at the airport was a problem ... especially with all these security guards around."

  14. @karen rothfus
    We are definately doing our job well when our children can become independent enough that they can navigate out communities without us, and do it responsibly.

  15. @Tina
    I would also have problems with my child at 9 riding the subway alone ... but then again, it just wasn't something we did anyway.


thanks for taking the time to comment on my blog. I appreciate the comment and will be sure to stop by and visit your blog.