Chances are that when you were a kid, you did not have “helicopter parents.” You might have gotten yourself to and from school. On a Saturday, you might have headed out the door once the cartoons were over, only to return for lunch, dinner, and when the streetlights turn on.
But as parents now, we tend to shelter our children much more than we were. While there are certainly dangers facing our children that we did not face, many of us go well beyond just keeping our children safe. At last year’s National PTA Convention, one of the highlights was the keynote speech given by Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of How to Raise an Adult. Ms. Lythcott-Haims was a Stanford dean who noted that more and more of the incoming students couldn’t seem to function without checking in with mom or dad, going so far as to text a parent to find out how to get to their next class when there was a campus map right next to them. Ms. Lythcott-Haims has given a TED Talk on the subject that explains the issue further.
Nine years ago, Lenore Skenazy wrote a column in the New York Sun about letting her 9-year-old ride the subway alone. The column went viral, and a sixth-grade public school teacher saw it and invited Ms. Skenazy to speak with her students. Before the visit, the teacher had her students do a special project—do something on your own that you feel ready to do, but get your parents’ permission first.
The results were surprising. Kids took their younger siblings to soccer practice, made dinner for the family, got themselves ready and out the door to school, or ordered and ate a meal at a restaurant on their own. Many of the kids had a new-found confidence as a result of the project.
Perhaps more surprising were the results for the parents. They reported being nervous about the project, but when they saw the effect that it had on their child, they found a weight lifted off of them. Parents reported that their child’s confidence showed up at school and in other parts of their lives. Many parents said they let their children do even more things on their own and stopped micromanaging parts of their child’s life. The project ended up being as freeing for the parents as it was for the kids.
The Free-Range Kids Project, named after Ms. Skenazy’s book Free-Range Kids, has a handful of schools participating from across the country, from California to New York City. Even if your school or class isn’t doing a Free-Range Kids Project, you can do one on your own in your family. The project even provides a free-range kid “membership card” that your child can show to a concerned adult with your signature and phone number. Think about letting your child become a free-range kid who comes in for bed when the streetlights turn on.
Photo © 2009 by Rachel under Creative Commons license.