Friday, December 17, 2010

Free-Range Kids

I recently came across a movement that is becoming popular among parents who don’t want to hover over their children like helicopters: free-range kids. The idea behind free-range kids is that kids should be given the freedom to play and explore on their own. Kids can learn a lot if they are encouraged to really observe and interact with the world around them. They don’t need to have every minute of their day scheduled with piano, French, swimming, soccer, and whatever other lessons are out there.

But the modern parent is a helicopter parent. They are constantly hovering to make sure their kid is sufficiently entertained. Boredom is considered the result of bad parenting. Playdates are scheduled onto a calendar. If a kid’s feelings are hurt, the modern parent never says: “well, did you bug him first”, or “suck it up”. They phone the parent or arrange a conference with the teacher. Kids are not allowed to just BE or to figure stuff out on their own. There are also a lot of new (unnecessary) rules thanks to modern parenting: no snowballs, no tag, no Red Rover and a long list of other “dangerous” activities that were commonplace when I was growing up. Seriously? No tag? Yes, kids do sometimes get hurt. That’s life.

Kids do need adult supervision. They hit and they hate sharing. But they also need to be left alone, to figure out HOW to play nicely. You develop social skills by being in a social situation.

Granted, you need to expose kids to things you think they may be interested in, or good at, but it doesn’t need to be so regimented and scheduled. Yes, the world is a scary place and there are some real dangers around. You can no longer just send your kids out to play and call them back in at dinner. But, I think we need to find some balance. Kids need to have some time to figure out on their own how to amuse THEMSELVES.

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