Did you hear about the mother who purposely left her 9 year old son alone at a department store? Nope, she didn’t leave him with a cell phone. Nope, she didn’t play private investigator to track his every move. And nope, she is not crazy. Lenore Skenazy’s son pleaded to her; leave him anywhere and let him figure out the way back home. Armed with a subway map, MetroCard, $20 note, and several quarters, this little boy was thrilled with his new found independence. Needless to say, he reached home extremely safe and sound.
Mothering Vs. Smothering
Helicopter parents (parents who ‘hover’ over their children’s lives) would have fainted in horror reading Skenazy’s ‘abuse’ tale. If you are the sort to plan every little detail of your child’s life and jump to the rescue at every little problem… then you can royally honor yourself as a helicopter. Pretty sure that’s dubbed as smothering though, not mothering.
Skenazy speaks out in her tongue-in-cheek article: “We become so bent out of shape over something as simple as letting your children out of sight on the playground that it starts seeming on par with letting them play on the railroad tracks at night. In the rain. In dark non-reflective coats.” Jokes aside though, would you have the guts and confidence to throw this kind of challenge to your children? If you answered with a tearful ‘no’, you might want to think twice.
Turns out that a parent’s obsessive ‘Sweetie, I’m doing everything for your own good’ attitude can actually cause more harm than good to the child’s intellectual and social development. A study carried out in US suggested that university students whose parents closely monitor them since young have turned out to be lacking of self-confidence, anxious and unwilling to take in new responsibilities.
The study was carried out by Neil Montgomery, a psychologist at Keene State College. 300 freshmen who participated in the study were asked to rate how strongly they felt about statements such as: “If two days go by without contact my parents would contact me,” and “My parents have contacted a school official on my behalf to solve problems for me.” 10% of the students who agreed were considered to have over protective parents. These students tended to be more anxious, self- conscious and vulnerable. However, the ‘free-range kids’ who disagreed to the statements appeared to be more relaxed, open and well-adjusted.
The Free Range Philosophy
The idea of free- range kids is for kids to live safely (seatbelts, helmets, car seats etc.), but without restricting their actions due to fear. It goes without saying that we have to keep our child’s age in mind when adapting the free-range philosophy. Skenazy writes in her ‘Free- Range Kids’ book: “Not all kids are ready to go Free Range at the same age. You know your sweet one’s unique abilities (and quirks), and you know your own comfort level, too.”
Hara Estroff Marano, author of ‘Nation of Wimps’ lists 5 ways to stop hovering:
- Let other people care for your children — don’t be his or her only source of comfort.
- Help children get motivated by not rescuing them at every turn. If an older child forgets homework, don’t rush to drive it to school. Let him or her experience the natural consequences of that forgetfulness.
- Rather than scolding and shaming, ask if the child got the outcome she desired by the particular behaviour.
- Let the kids play on the playground without interfering and micromanaging.
- Ease up on the sanitizing gels, the special shopping cart inserts, and every little thing to create a barrier between your child and the world.
Your Fears Vs. Your Kid’s Fears
Throughout my entire school-life, never once did my mum do a ‘mummy- rescue’ rush to school. When I forgot my English project at home, I dare not dial my Mum’s mobile (even though Ms. Neo was the strictest English teacher in school!). Mum constantly warned me to ‘never ever call me from school if you are in trouble’. She reasoned that any trouble I received could only be blamed upon me, so why should she be involved? From this (and a very painful experience with a meter wooden ruler), I learned that I had to be more responsible, organized and aware. This, I am now very thankful for.
If you are still thinking, “I just want to protect my poor little baby from the dangerous big world!” you should consider what Dr. Katherine Ramsland, a professor of forensic psychology, has to say. “An overemphasis of things that might happen encourages children to become timid and restricted in their awareness. They withdraw from the richness of life and fail to develop self- confidence from testing their personal resources.”
Therefore, unless you are still attached to your child with the umbilical cord, it’s most probably a healthier choice to let your child roam a bit more freely.
Helicopter parents out there: You need to land, ASAP.
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