Thursday, May 14, 2009

Benign Neglect

OK, let's finish this off- I've got other stuff to write about.

I was saying how it's hard not to be a "helicopter parent" these days. While in reality it's extremely unlikely that any one child is going to get abducted (and those who are will almost all be taken by someone known to the family, not "strangers"*), if you watch or read the news for any length of time, you'll become convinced that there are kidnappers around every corner and every babysitter's a child molester in disguise.

I don't want to live like that, and I don't want my kids to grow up being afraid of the world. I want them to know how to handle themselves in suspicious or scary situations, but I want them to enjoy this world that is overwhelmingly a good, safe place. I want them to know that it's never OK to go with someone without mommy or daddy's permission, but I want them to know that it's OK to respond to the young mother on the street who asks how old they are when we're out for a walk. I want them to be smart, not paranoid.

One of the difficulties of being a parent these days is facing the expectation that you'll spend every waking moment entertaining your child with "enriching" activities. That's not to say that I don't enjoy playing cars once in a while, or that I don't love a good story time; I just don't agree with the notion that my kids shouldn't be left to fend for themselves when it comes to play time.

Call it "benign neglect" or call it free-range parenting- what it comes down to is that I think kids today are missing out on a lot by not having the freedom that their parents and grandparents had. As much as I hated being bored as a kid, I now appreciate the fact that my mom didn't immediately jump in to intervene when it happened; being bored sparks creativity.

I love my children, and I want them to grow up to be confident and independent- something that a lot of "grown-ups" my generation and younger simply are not. I hope my boys will learn how to solve problems on their own, always knowing that their mom and dad will be there if they need us. Does that make sense?

Here's a website by "America's Worst Mom," Lenore Skenazy. Do you remember the outrage when she let her 9-year old son ride the subway alone and then wrote an article about it? No? Good story. Anyway, she's got a lot of information about what she calls "Free-Range Parenting"- giving kids freedom to be kids while still being a responsible parent (and taking care of kids while refusing to give in to the fear, uncertainty and doubt that plague our society). I'm definitely more cautious than she is; then again, my kids are a lot younger, too. Have a look, if you're interested:

*And they don't get much stranger than my family.

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