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helicopter parent

Readers, Here’s a video that has gotten over 10 million hits so far:

It’s about motherhood being the hardest job at all, requiring 135 hours a week, lots of standing, very little sleeping and zero breaks.

But as “The Evil H.R. Lady” points out in this brilliant post, motherhood is not the utterly difficult, demanding, exhausting job society (and this video) paint it as. It’s only that way if we believe our kids can’t do anything safely or successfully on their own. So, says Evil H.R. Lady:

….You are doing it wrong if you never get to sit down, never get to eat lunch, and never get a break of any kind. You are not teaching your child to become an adult, you are teaching them to remain in perpetual toddler hood. This is bad parenting. I don’t know any mothers — even mothers of special needs kids — that don’t get a break. (And I will concede that some special needs kids require a tremendous amount of care from their parents–dad too!–and that may qualify as the most difficult job. But most moms have just regular kids–with problems here and there, and difficulties in different areas, but nothing requiring 24 hour nursing level care.)

Exaggerating the amount of work and expertise needed to parent not only creates guilt on the part of parents (who can live up to those expectations?). It also makes it seem like the best parents are the ones who treat their kids as helpless and endangered for as long as possible. If you believe parenting involves gradually letting go, well, gradually it gets easier.

This cult of motherhood SEEMS to venerate women, but really it is all about making them feel bad if they actually trust their kids to thrive without constant,  obsessive assistance.  - L

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 — This just in:

Dear Free-Range Kids: Just wanted to bring your attention to this bill proposed in the Rhode Island legislature. Here’s what I posted on my FB wall:

Attention all parents: Here’s a bill proposed by reps Williams, Edwards, O’Brien, Messier, and Slater. They don’t think your children are safe enough and have introduced H-7578 which would “require that for school bus transportation provided to children enrolled in grades kindergarten through six (6), a parent, guardian or authorized person be present at the child’s designated bus stops.”

AND if that’s not enough the bill requires the parent to “notify the school in writing with the name, age and relationship of the person authorized to accept the child at the designated home bound bus stop; provided, no authorization shall be allowed for persons under the age of sixteen (16) years old.”

So your 12-year-old child is not old enough to wait at the bus stop alone or get off the bus and walk home by themselves. PLEASE — Emma walked a mile to school in 6th grade and managed to wait for and get home from the bus alone starting in 3rd grade. Can we all say Nanny State? Hopefully this one won’t go anywhere — but really — what are these reps thinking? Here are their emails:

Anastasia P. Williams E-mail: rep-williams@rilin.state.ri.us

John G. Edwards E-mail: rep-edwards@rilin.state.ri.us

William W. O’Brien  E-mail: Rep-obrien@rilin.state.ri.us

Mary Duffy Messier E-mail: rep-messier@rilin.state.ri.us

Scott Slater  E-mail: Rep-slater@rilin.state.ri.us

 Thanks — Beth

Lenore here: Great letter, great cause. And think of the repercussions: How will any parent ever think it’s safe for a kid to walk to school, or play outside, if even taking the bus requires door-to-door adult supervision? 

Law would make it illegal for any child under 7th grade to get on or off bus without a guardian present.

Law would make it illegal for any child under 7th grade to get on or off bus without a guardian present.

Here’s the article everyone’s talking about, folks: “The Overprotected Kid,” by Hanna Rosin in The Atlantic. She chronicles all the things we talk about: The lack of free time kids have, the excess supervision, the need for adventure — the whole shebang, including interviews with many of the folks you’ve read about here: Peter Gray, David Finkelhor, Tim Gill… So — enjoy! (Or whatever the word is for reading something you agree with that makes you sad and mad.) — L

…I used to puzzle over a particular statistic that routinely comes up in articles about time use: even though women work vastly more hours now than they did in the 1970s, mothers—and fathers—of all income levels spend much more time with their children than they used to. This seemed impossible to me until recently, when I began to think about my own life. My mother didn’t work all that much when I was younger, but she didn’t spend vast amounts of time with me, either. She didn’t arrange my playdates or drive me to swimming lessons or introduce me to cool music she liked. On weekdays after school she just expected me to show up for dinner; on weekends I barely saw her at all. I, on the other hand, might easily spend every waking Saturday hour with one if not all three of my children, taking one to a soccer game, the second to a theater program, the third to a friend’s house, or just hanging out with them at home. When my daughter was about 10, my husband suddenly realized that in her whole life, she had probably not spent more than 10 minutes unsupervised by an adult. Not 10 minutes in 10 years.

It’s hard to absorb how much childhood norms have shifted in just one generation. Actions that would have been considered paranoid in the ’70s—walking third-graders to school, forbidding your kid to play ball in the street, going down the slide with your child in your lap—are now routine. In fact, they are the markers of good, responsible parenting. One very thorough study of “children’s independent mobility,” conducted in urban, suburban, and rural neighborhoods in the U.K., shows that in 1971, 80 percent of third-graders walked to school alone. By 1990, that measure had dropped to 9 percent, and now it’s even lower. When you ask parents why they are more protective than their parents were, they might answer that the world is more dangerous than it was when they were growing up. But this isn’t true, or at least not in the way that we think. For example, parents now routinely tell their children never to talk to strangers, even though all available evidence suggests that children have about the same (very slim) chance of being abducted by a stranger as they did a generation ago. Maybe the real question is, how did these fears come to have such a hold over us? And what have our children lost—and gained—as we’ve succumbed to them?

Readers — Found this on my “Pro or Con?” page just now:

Dear Free-Range Kids: Your website (granted I haven’t read your book yet) speaks of everything from a parent’s point-of-view but have you considered what Free-Range Parenting looks and feels like according to a child?

I’m 26 years old and was raised with the Free-Range parent philosophy.  Now that I’m old enough to begin reflecting with introspection and observation, I’ve come to the realization that Free-Range parenting was founded to counteract helicopter parenting but neglected to recognize its own extremism.  I do have great parents who taught me independence and free thinking in that I’ve traveled to 50 countries, obtained masters in both aerospace engineering and sports management, worked with acclaimed businesses in their industries; NASA and Detroit professional sports teams, by all outward accounts I have many great accomplishments due to my parents.  But I only look good on paper.

You said, “a Free-Range Kid is a kid who gets treated as a smart, young, capable individual, not an invalid who needs constant attention and help.”  And what happens to a child who grows up wondering why their parents were never there for them?  Why they were expected to do everything on their own volition? What you may define as coddling, children could interpret as love, support, and understanding.  Coddling was once defined as cooking an egg in water below the boiling point.  It wasn’t overprotected or pampered because it gave the egg a chance to cook itself under its own free will and its own pace.  Free-Range parenting made me an accomplished adult but it brought me to a “boiling point” before I was ready.

I wasn’t given the childhood to learn what support looks like and now I question it with great insecurity in all relationships in my life.  I never ask for help and I never allow myself to be vulnerable because Free-Range parenting taught me only about independence.  It neglected to teach me how to recognize what healthy dependence on society and humanity looks like.

If Free-Range parenting believes the world isn’t as dangerous as it’s made out to be, it still becomes dangerous because a child grows up believing they have nowhere to turn to for escape if needed. And a child with no place to relax from the world is just as dangerous as a helicopter child not being capable to enter the world.  Neither child will survive it.

This is not meant to accuse any parenting ideology as wrong as it may have worked for some children because that is what they as an individual needed.  But I am supporting that claim that one parenting ideology is right and all the other are wrong.  As I mentioned earlier, I am only beginning to reflect on the world but in this moment I can safely say I am sick of hearing about parenting style.  There isn’t a philosophy on parenting.  Because each child, each individual, each perspective is different.  The only foundation that parents need is unconditional love.  An acceptance based on the uniqueness of each child.  It’s one thing to tell a child you love them but you have to show them love in a meaning that correlate with what they believe it to be.  Not what you believe it to be. – Non-Free-Ranger

Dear Non: Thanks for this note. You’re so right, there is no one “parenting philosophy” that works across the board. Free-Range doesn’t consider itself a parenting philosophy, per se. It’s just a way of looking at a world bent on brainwashing us with fear, and trying to counter that drumbeat of dread.

It sounds like your parents may have been uninvolved to the extreme — or at least it felt that way to you, which would indeed feel terrible. I very much agree that children deserve unconditional love and I think no Free-Ranger would feel otherwise. We also believe in play — lots of it — not the push to “succeed” you may have experienced (and thought was “Free-Range”).  

Free-Range isn’t about ignoring our kids, or not “being there” for them, it’s about loving AND believing in them. That is not the same thing as turning a cold shoulder, and it is not the same as answering all requests for help (unspoken or otherwise) with a, “You can do it — go away.”

I’m really sorry this was your experience, and I hope you can go forth and embrace the world in a way that makes you happy. – L




Folks — Wendy Mogel got the anti-helicopter parenting movement rolling with her book, ‘The Blessings of a Skinned Knee.” Here’s a taste of her fabulous “Overparenting Anonymous” List that I wish I had tattooed (just for the first 20 years or so) on my arm:


A 26-step program for good parents gone bad, by Wendy Mogel

I’ve written these steps to provide encouragement to well-intentioned, devoted, loving, intelligent parents who feel powerless to stop themselves from overindulging, overprotecting, and overscheduling their children. Parents who get jittery if their offspring aren’t close to perfect in every area. And parents who have allowed traits like self-reliance, resilience, and accountability to slip to the bottom of their parenting agenda.

1.         Don’t mistake a snapshot taken today with the epic movie of your child’s life. Kids go through phases. Glorious ones and rotten ones.

2.         Don’t fret over or try to fix what’s not broken. Accept your child’s nature even if he’s shy, stubborn, moody, or not great at math.

 3.         Look at anything up close and you’ll see the flaws. Consider it perfectly normal if you like your child’s friends better than you like your child.

4.         Work up the courage to say a simple “no.” Don’t try to reach consensus every time.

5. Encourage your child to play or spend time outside using all five senses in the three-dimensional world. How come only troubled rich kids get to go to the wilderness these days?

Lenore here: That is the greatest question EVER! For the rest of Wendy’s list click here! But first, let me just give you this one more:

14. Allow your child to do things that scare you.  You have to let her take some steps on her own, without holding your hand, if you want her to grow increasingly independent and self-confident. Let her get her learner’s permit when she comes of age; let her choose her own boyfriend.

Read the rest here!

How come only troubled rich kids are sent to spend time in nature, asks Wendy Mogel.

How come only troubled rich kids are sent to spend time in nature, asks Wendy Mogel.

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.