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Helicopter Effect on Kids

Hi Readers — Kwasi Enin, a Long Island, NY, high school senior who got into all the Ivies credits his “helicopter parents” for pushing him to excel. So does this mean that helicopter = success and, possibly, Free-Range = failure? Of course I don’t think so. Here’s why.

1  - First is the fact that success can be defined many, many ways, of which “Ivy League acceptance” is just one. But you knew that.

2 – We have no idea where the Free-Range kids are going to college. And even if they all got into Ivies, see #1.

3 – Free-Rangers DO believe in helping our kids to succeed. The way we do it is by loving them (as I’m sure Kwasi’s parents do) and letting them know that we believe in them.  (Ditto.) It’s just that we believe in them —  and basic human nature — so much that we believe they can do many things safely and successfully on their own.

We are still happy to help, and often do, but we don’t think our kids need us to schedule every second, handle every issue, or make every moment “teachable.” We believe in our kids to the point where even when it looks like “all” they’re doing is playing outside, walking to school, or pursuing some hobby that we didn’t choose for them, they are still learning. Note: This may or may not result in higher grades.

We have nothing against helicopter parents, and most likely we are all some mixture of both. I know I am — in part because “Free-Range” isn’t a parenting philosophy so much as a world view: We do not believe our kids are in constant danger, so there’s no need to act as if they are. (Or make laws as if they are.)

All of us want the best for our kids and all believe they can do great things. Free-Rangers may stand back a little more than Kwasi’s parents. But we share the belief that our kids should be grateful, engaged, and kind. And that they’ve all got the goods to be “successful” — however you define it.  - L

Helicoptered Kids Only?



Hey Readers — This piece on the Huffington Post  is by a mom, Rebecca Cuneo Keenan, who is rarin’ to let her 8-year-old son Free-Range…but can’t:

I’ve been reading about helicopter versus free range parenting for years now. I’ve been hearing about how our kids are being raised on back-lit screens and shuttled from one scheduled activity to another. They don’t get the time or space to explore their neighbourhoods by themselves and learn independence in the process. They aren’t active enough and, quite frankly, all this tab keeping is exhausting for everyone. If there was ever a question about which side I’d take, helicopter or free-range, I’d already long decided to be free-range.

But it’s not that easy.

She adds:

My generation of parents really is just shy of bubble-wrapping our kids and sending them out into the world with a GPS embedded in their bodies. We keep our kids in five-point-car-seat-harnesses for as long as possible, micromanage every detail of their locally-sourced, organic diet and get them cell phones as soon as they’re likely to be away from us all in the name of health and safety. It goes against every fibre of our collective consciousness to send them out to the woods with pointed sticks and sling shots.

And finally she says there are the added problems of worrying about being blamed if her child gets hurt, as well as convincing her son, 8, that it might actually be fun to walk to the park (at least part way to the park) by himself. So, here are some suggestions I’ve got, and I’d love you, readers, to add on:

*Have him walk with a friend! That way he has someone to play with, too.

*Talk to other parents about your interest in Free-Ranging. When you find someone like-minded (and you will!), agree to give your kids unsupervised time outside together.

*To remember how the world isn’t a cesspool of danger, try a day without preparing. Leave the house without Kleenex, Band-Aids, extra water, wipes or even — as we recently discussed — snacks. Or cash!  You’ll see you can survive, which may remind you that your son can, too.

*Speaking of friends, talk to one who’s from another country about what they let kids do there. Often, the things we’re terrified of are simply routine elsewhere. Instant perspective!

*Have your son actually HELP you by doing something on his own. Have him get an ingredient for dinner, or walk the dog, or go to the post office. Anything that really WOULD make your day a little easier. Kids love to be more than just our precious babies. They long for purpose, especially in the adult world.

*Read “Free to Learn,” by Peter Gray. His subtitle says it all: “Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life.” (And he forgot to add, “Possibly Slimmer, too!”)

And here’s one suggestion lifted straight from my own book:

* Think of one activity you [or your husband] did as a kid that you are unwilling to let your own sweetheart do at the same age (baby-sitting, biking to a friend’s), and make a list of 20 things that could conceivably go wrong. If there are any worries that strike you as realistic, help your child prepare for them. Teach your would-be babysitter first aid. Teach your would-be biker how to signal his turns. You’ll feel better because you’ve helped them and they’ve demonstrated that they’re ready.

Add your ideas here! – L

Mom wonders: "How do I throw this stuff away?"

Mom wonders: “How do I throw this stuff away?”

Readers — I love this post by a gal named Karen Perry who came up with this great modern-day challenge after thinking back and realizing:

I don’t have ANY memories of my mom ever stepping foot in the park let alone laying down a blanket with a variety of snacks for me to nibble on. She most def was not calling me over from the playground to sit down to eat some cucumber. And she would NEVER ask me to rinse my hands with sanitizing lotion first.

So the challenge?

Let them rip around for a couple hours and work up an appetite…. I just don’t get the “Come take a break, sit down on the blanket and have a few snacks” delio that’s going on out there. Little boys and girls of the world will stop having the time of their lives on the playground and come to us when they’re hungry. And when they are, they can wait till we get home for a snack. Are we afraid these kids are going to pass out? Seriously…what’s the deal?

The added bonus? No 10 minutes of prepping for the park. No bag to carry. No containers to accidentally leave behind when it’s time to go home. Just grab your jackets and go.

I so agree that we often over-prepare when under- or even zero-preparation is necessary! If you take the no snack challenge for a day at the park, please write and let us know how it goes! – L

As much as I love these (or the American version), kids can probably spend some time outside without an infusion.

As much as I love snacks , kids can probably spend some time outside without an immediate infusion.

Folks — Below is a 1-minute taste of the 13-part reality show I host, “World’s Worst Mom.” It’s like The Supernanny, except instead of dealing with out-of-control KIDS I deal with PARENTS and their out-of-control worries — like the mom who would only let her son stand on his skateboard on the lawn and NOT MOVE. Or the mom who’d take the family’s freshly cooked dinner and nuke it for 5 minutes to kill the germs. Or the mom who insisted her 13-year-old son still come with her into the ladies room.

I spent five days with each of these families, and at the end, 12 of the 13 changed to the point where they could barely remember WHY they had been so afraid.

“I’m a mother of four and prior to meeting Lenore I literally did EVERYTHING for them, from cleaning to cooking to laundry, etc. I didn’t allow my children to take part in any type of activities unless I was with them. My eldest child at the time was 16 and I had NEVER allowed him to take the bus. Yes — I was super overprotective with my children and lo and behold, Lenore came into my life and literally helped me with my crazy issues. I have never been happier as my children help me clean, cook and most importantly, I don’t have to drive them everywhere as they take the bus! Woo hoo! Words can’t express how thankful I am to have met Lenore. Miss her so much!” – S.C., Ontario mom of four 

The show airs on Slice TV in Canada and on Discovery/TLC International in a whole lot of the rest of the world (Russia, Australia, Latin America, Poland, Italy, and it is particularly popular in England). But it has yet to find a U.S. home. So, if you know of a TV executive, or if you ARE Ben SherwoodJeff ZuckerJoshua Sapan, or if you happen to be in charge of scouting programs for any TV, cable or web channel,  please take a look. Feel free to drop a private note at heylenore3@gmail.com. Thanks! — Lenore

Readers — This comes to us from one of my favorite thinker/writer/lawyers: David Pimentel. In 2012 he wrote the wonderful piece, “Child Neglect and the Free-Range Parent: Is Overprotective Parenting the New Standard of Care? Alas, in some legal ways, it is.

Now he’visiting the issue of what happens when Child Protective Services believes Free-Range Parenting is negligence. It’s not and we have to let the people in power KNOW!  (Boldface is mine.)  - L.

M'am, was that YOUR child who was walking to school today?

M’am, did you deliberately allow your child to frolic unsupervised? 

Pimentel writes to us:

As many of your posts acknowledge, Free-Range parents are resisting a powerful cultural trend.  They may be subjected not only to the head-wagging of neighbors, but also to interventions, or at least investigations, by Child Protective Services (CPS).  CPS is, of course, just doing its job, trying to keep kids safe, responding to calls from ill-informed, but nonetheless alarmed observers. But CPS is applying legal standards that are hopelessly vague, and erring on the side of “safety,” by removing many children each year from families who have not mistreated them, and who have not come to harm, but who are nonetheless deemed to be “at risk.” My new article highlights the problem of inadequate legal standards CPS applies, and of the incentive structure (including financial incentives) faced by CPS offices, which results in this type of excessive response

It is time for legislatures to examine the mandate of CPS in their respective states, and to ensure that CPS interventions are scaled back, so they respond to genuine—as opposed to imagined—threats to child safety, and so they abandon the fool’s errand eradicating risk altogether.  Parenting is an exercise in risk management, and the legal standards need to be revised to protect parental discretion to make the necessary judgment calls as to what is best for their children.  Such determinations should not be made in the abstract by CPS; rather they should be entrusted to the parents themselves, who know their kids best and, by virtually all accounts, love them best as well.

Check out the article here:  Fearing the Bogeyman: How the Legal System’s Overreaction to Perceived Danger Threatens Families and Children (2014)publication pending. –  Prof. David Pimentel, Ohio Northern University

Lenore here: Yes! Click on the article! It shows the legal world that there’s interest in this issue!

Readers, this comes up often: terrified grandmas who were fearless moms (or at least feared less):

Dear Free-Range Kids: Funny thing about  my mother…

I was very much raised Free-Range.  From the time I was six or so, I left the house in the morning, returned for lunch, and then got called home after dark.  The only rule was don’t leave the block without telling someone.  My friends and I ran in a pack, organized our own games, settled our own rivalries, and learned important lessons like ‘poking sticks in the gutters is only fun until you bother a raccoon.’

I am incredibly grateful for my childhood.  I honestly grieve for children who are never allowed outside without supervision and aren’t even trusted in their own homes without an adult until they’re sixteen (if then).  But what I find most maddening is that my own mother, who raised me to be independent and dance in the rain, now firmly believes those parents have the right idea. 

Why?  Because, “The world has changed.” 

And when I show her the stats and explain how times are actually LESS dangerous than in the days when I was roaming the streets, she says, “Well, everyone has their own beliefs.”  I cannot convince her that the lower crime rate is an actual, verifiable FACT, not an opinion.  She tells me “anything could happen,” and when I remind her that nothing happened to her own children, she says, “It’s just not safe these days.”

That’s how insidious the media machine is.  Here we have a woman who once trusted in the world enough to let her children experience it…yet who now firmly believes in the face of all evidence that children are now being snatched off street corners every single day.  Data and facts do not sway her, because this isn’t about reality…it’s about perception, and ONLY perception. 

My brother recently had his first child.  They came to visit, and his wife scolded him for turning his back on the baby in a restaurant for less than thirty seconds.  He had dropped a fork, and while his wife was in the restroom my brother got up to grab a waiter’s attention.  “Anyone could have taken him!” his wife said, and my mother agreed.

It’s just so damn sad. – Frankly Frustrated  

Dear Frustrated: It IS sad. And to live in such safe times and treat them like we’re living through the Plague Years is really ungrateful, too.  So, if any of you readers have managed to make your own parents shake off the fear, please tell us how you did it!

Yesterday's Free-Range Moms are today's terrified grannies.

Yesterday’s Free-Range Moms are today’s terrified grannies.

Readers — Over and over I keep realizing how grateful kids are when we lean OUT of their lives a little and let them show us how competent they really are. I love this letter! – L. 

Dear Free-Range Kids: I stumbled on your site when a backpacking guide friend asked me what approach she should use in talking to Girl Scouts and their moms about camping and other “risky” outdoor activities.  I’ve been witnessing the changes in outdoor programs since I joined the Brownies in 1955!

My parents gave me my first jackknife when I was 8.  Mom taught me how to cross streets and how to walk against traffic so I could walk to school.  I camped out alone in our yard all the time.  Rode the city bus to downtown Bridgeport, CT, every weekend, starting at age 10.  I had the same streetlight curfew as every other kid I knew.  I learned to build campfires, cook outdoors, ride my bike, and swim.  My mom didn’t hover, she taught me.  She TRUSTED me.  I trusted me!

I handled myself just fine when I met a flasher.  It didn’t scar me for life.  I learned about death and loss and wasn’t shielded from difficult truths about being human.

I was free to fall down.  I figured out that everybody faces challenges.  Nobody rushed in to defend me in the principal’s office.

When I was 18, I had a chance to fly to Switzerland to study for a summer.  My mom said, “Go for it!”  Her favorite line as I was growing up was, “I didn’t raise any stupid kids.  Use your own judgment.”  The woman was a saint!

And I rose to the occasion BECAUSE she trusted me!

Kids need freedom and respect, training to take risks, opportunities to find their own strengths.

What the heck have we done to them except tell them how helpless and incompetent they are?

Whose idea was it that children are fragile and stupid? — Holly

Lenore here: It wasn’t MY idea…

Girls -- stand back! There's a fire!

Girls — stand back! There could be fire!