How many times a day do you tell your children to be careful? Five? 10? 50 times? If you kept track, I bet you’d be astounded. A recent article in the New York Times about anti-helicopter parents in Silicon Valley trying to create the ultimate “playborhood” for their kids really got me thinking. Mostly, I liked the article because it fit with my laissez-faire parenting philosophy of letting kids be kids. Guide them, but don’t hover over them, suffocating their very existence.
As a child of the 80s, the way I was parented differs largely from how kids are being parented today. In many ways, this is a very positive progression. But in some, as the article describes, our parenting methods have gone too far on the extreme end of an over-protective spectrum. Do you remember playing in your backyard or neighborhood unsupervised? Those were great days. Full of adventure and discovery, I learned to fend for myself, as I became independent. I yearn for those days. Today, we hover, worry, tell our children to be careful at the slightest indication of risk. What was once normal now goes by coined phrases. “Free-range parenting.” “Adventure playground.” “Forest school.” Businesses have been set up attempting to bring back old-school fun.
When did we become worriers? By default, if you are a parent, you worry. But I want to know, when did it pass over from “reasonable” to “helicopter crazy”? In the 90s? When the media started reporting more bad news stories? The very fabric of our parenting culture has changed over the past 30 years, and I’m intrigued as to how and why this happened. Why do you feel guilty sitting on a bench while your kids are at the park? Why do we feel we need to follow them around like creepers all over the playground? Why are we so scared? Everyone is watching and judging everyone else’s parenting style. I’ve had old women come up to me telling me, their voices dripping in judgement, that I’m very “trusting” for letting my son bike 50 yards ahead of me on the sidewalk. How sad it has come to this.
What will this do to our children? Are we raising risk-averse, short-on-common-sense, overly attached kids?
Many years ago, while taking the bus in Paris, two little boys, aged 8 or 9, got on. They had their scooters with them, and they had places to go. I watched, amazed as they negotiated the busy bus, got themselves a seat, and spoke excitedly to one another about their plans for the day. At their stop, they got off and zoomed off on their scooters. I remember thinking to myself, those are the kind of kids I want to raise when I have kids one day. They were just so cool. Savvy little Parisians at the age of 9. I was impressed. Their parents had obviously done a good job. As parents, we can’t forget that we’re preparing our kids for life. We have to guide them to independence, one anti-helicopter step at a time.