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?