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worry

Readers — I not only appreciated this letter one of you just sent, I found the Rosetta stone of parental worry in the article she links to!

Dear Free-Range Kids Do you let your kids have sleepovers?  Shame on you!  Yes it’s time for the latest movement in overprotective idiocy, the Ban Sleepovers movement! Look: “7 Reasons to Say No to Sleepovers”

Oh my God what were our parents thinking, letting us have SLEEPOVERS!  We can’t let our kids might be tired the next day!  They might not do well on all that ridiculous busywork from school.  Um I mean homework. (Yes, I’m being sarcastic. Insert evil grin.)

The sad part is I know families who really have banned sleepovers. – A.H.

Lenore here, who thinks she understands what’s REALLY going on, thanks to this quote I found in the No Sleepovers article:

Letting your kid spend the night away means giving up control of what she’s doing, eating and watching.

That, my friends, is the crux of the matter. We have gotten so used to total control of  our children, that giving it up for even one night is too much for us to bear. Control each bite, activity and TV show we must. Otherwise, all bets are off. Our lovely child will turn to stone, or Go-gurt, or something else disgusting. We love our kids so much, yet we think they are nothing without us. – L.

Why, kids on sleepovers might even make pizza! That has cholesterol, is fattening, and could conceivably lead to a life in the Mafia. (Photo by woodleywonderworks)

Readers —  The fear of kidnapping is so huge, it is overwhelming a lot of parents. How can they possibly put it in perspective? Here’s some help — from you! Both comments appeared on the post below this one, about a mom who lets her son ride his bike around town:

…I’d  like to know how deal with the worry of something happening on the way to and from these activities? I honestly think it’s a great idea (I have a 2 year old so I’m far from this age but am always reading about every age group) but I know the main reason I wouldn’t want to let my (hypothetical)12 year old do that is the fear of kidnappers etc snatching him. How do you personally deal with that?- Rachel

An honest question from an open mind. Here’s the answer, from a reader named Chuck:

Rachel, I’d honestly say that you deal with the fear of your son being snatched, while riding his bike in public, in the middle of the day, the same way you deal with the fear of him falling in the bathtub or being struck by lightning:  You admit it’s something that could possibly happen, but it’s not likely, and you’re not going to have much of a life if you spend all your life trying to prevent any situation where anything like that could occur.

That is just brilliant. It doesn’t negate the fear, it puts it into the same file as other fears. Contextualizes it. I am going to use that from now on. All the time. Sooo helpful. – L.

Hi Readers! Christine Gross-Loh’s articles on HuffPo have been generating a lot of attention — with reason. She’s great! Thanks to her global perspective, she can attest that the worry and hovering so common in America represent a distinct and unusual type of parenting, not just the “instinct” many here feel it is. Meantime, she’s is a mom of four and author of the just published book, Parenting Without Borders: Surprising Lessons Parents Around the World Can Teach Us. Visit her at www.christinegrossloh.com! -L.

KIDS ARE MORE COMPETENT THAN AMERICAN PARENTS BELIEVE by Christine Gross-Loh

When our family first moved overseas to Japan, I was stunned to see so many little kids out on their own. The first time I saw a six year old getting on a train by herself, I actually thought this was negligent parenting. (It’s understandable: I had come straight from America, where this kind of thing was totally unthinkable.)

But it didn’t take long for our kids to become used to a freedom they had never imagined being able to experience. Of course, for me there were still jarring moments that reminded me that I’d come from a totally different world – like the time my friend told me she was having her son take the bus to a new location, kind of far away, for soccer practice. Instead of doing what I assumed she would — writing down the directions for him and pressing the correct change into his hand – all she did was hand him a transit map.

When we returned to the US five years later, our kids – who became used to walking a mile to school from the time they were in first grade, and going to the park any time they wanted to meet up with friends – were confused by a culture that kept giving children so many messages that not only are they not capable, they are fragile and must be bolstered constantly. We kept wondering: why did that father over there praise his toddler son for riding a merry go round (“Good riding!”)? Why did those grandparents over there lavishly praise their little granddaughter for….drinking water? Why did that eight year old not know how to butter his own bread because he wasn’t “allowed to use a knife?”

Soon after my return, an American college professor told me how she showed her students some photos of a recent trip to Japan she’d taken. One photo was of a group of first graders, all wearing the same yellow hats that all first graders do there when commuting to school in Japan. The yellow hats are a signal to the community around them: “Look out for us.” But the professor’s college students – products of a culture that had taught them to be suspicious — gasped. “Here in the U.S., those hats would make those kids a target!”

It’s obvious we’re experiencing an erosion of trust: in what our kids can do and in our wider community.  Fear instead of trust prevails even though statistics show so many of our fears about safety are overblown, and research shows us that the greatest safety protection we can give children is to give them practice in exercising their judgment and competence. Children in many countries are encouraged to hone this competence because it’s considered such an essential way to raise kids who can keep themselves safe.

This is what’s most ironic: although we often think of so many other nations as less free than our own, and we love the idea of raising independent, free kids, somehow we’ve gotten it backwards: our children are the ones who seem to have the least freedom and least capability, all in the name of protecting them. Change won’t come overnight, but in the meantime we can ask ourselves, are there small steps we can take, empowered by the knowledge that there is surely a child somewhere, somewhere in the world who is doing these things too?

Small steps like these:

-Letting a five year old child ride a bike around the neighborhood by himself

-Letting an eight year old take some pocket change and go into a store to buy herself a treat (one that she chooses)

-Biting your tongue when you automatically start to say “be careful” or “good job.”

-Teaching your four year old how to use a knife and a cuttingboard

-Encouraging a preschooler to climb a tree

It’s eye-opening to hear what other parents do to give their children a more Free-Range childhood. What other suggestions do you have? – Christine

Japanese kids in their yellow hats. Photo from Fodor’s Travel Guides.

Hi Readers! This came in as a comment this morning, and if  it doesn’t lend a little perspective, nothing will.  – L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: I am currently deployed to Afghanistan on my third tour, and I am part of the new female engagement teams. These teams consist of medical, security and intelligence specialist. We go directly into villages, unaccompanied by male troops, and meet face to face with the women and children of the villages. We provide medical care, work with the women to build skills so that they can help support their families, and listen to the concerns of the women and children and try to help. I can promise you, that in the grand scheme of things, bugs, babysitting, and the cold are such silly things to focus on as a society. [Topics of fear recently discussed here on Free-Range Kids.]

In my three deployments, here are a few of the children that I have had the honor of meeting and the privilege of helping:

*8-year-old Avizeh, who lost her leg last year because of a Soviet-era mine. She walks to school 2 miles on crutches every day, because she fears that when we are no longer in the country, she will be denied an education, as her mother was.

*12-year-old Dehqan, who is the sole caretaker of his 5-year-old brother and 3-year-old sister. He lost both parents to cholera, and he works 12 hours a day caring for the goats and crops with only the 5-year-old for help.

*And finally, 16-year-old Belahrah, who lost her sight at age 4 because of a infection that would have been cured with a simple penicillian shot, which she didn’t receive because the male doctor refused to treat her because the Taliban demanded that all women must be treated by female doctors. But 12 years ago, women weren’t allowed to attend school, let alone become doctors.   So female doctors are extremely rare.

These are the things that should worry parents, not the petty things we have focused on in the States. We don’t have to worry about our child losing a limb to a mine left behind 25 years ago, or going blind simply because the most basic of medical care is denied on the basis of gender. When you have a mother kissing your hand over and over and crying with gratitude because you showed up in her village with a simple supply of DTP vaccines, you realize the other worries are just silly. Afghanis would laugh at our Free-Range ideas, because here, all the children are Free-Range — and then some! – Kristi

She then added in a follow-up comment:

I didn’t mean to imply that our [American] problems are silly. I was referring to the … attempts to protect our children from all possible risks, and the overreaction to every perceived danger…. I will always be an outspoken proponent of common sense parenting and fight against the helicoptering mentality because I have witnessed what children are capable of in the most horrific of environments and am confident that the average American child can survive and thrive without all of the silly rules and safety regulations authorities seem determined to force upon them.

Kristi has served 18 years’ active duty in the United States Army. She is currently on her third deployment to Afghanistan. She is soldier, wife, and mother to five Free-Range children.

Hi Readers! You’ll recall that a few posts back I was ranting about the CNN video clip on how to keep your baby safe from being kidnapped.

Well, I ended up writing a whole column about the issue for my syndicate, Creators. So here’s the CNN article — “How to Guard Against Baby Snatchers.” And here’s mine on how to guard against CNN and its harsh admonitions to new moms.

I guess what really irks me more and more is the idea that “convenience” is a dirty word when it comes to parenting — especially mothering. And that even if it is ALMOST unheard of for a baby to be snatched from a hospital room while the mom is in the bathroom, CNN says that is still NO REASON for a mom to be so LAZY as to not bring the baby into the bathroom with her, just in case.

Why are we supposed to completely ignore our own needs or even preferences to thwart a nearly non-existent danger? What makes a mom “good” just because she is martyring herself for no reason? Where did this impossible and cruel standard come from? (Stay tuned: I’m reading a book that just may answer that question and will write about it soon.) Till then, remember: the only good parent is a parent who is really worried and stressed!  – L.

Hi Readers — I got this question yesterday and it is one that comes up from time to time. I’ll give you my answer, but the author would like to have yours, too. Here goes:
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Dear Free-Range Kids: I have a question for you. Or a scenario. Every morning — ok most mornings — I get up at 5:30 and go to a boot camp in a park one city block from my house for one hour. My husband and the kids (almost 7 and 9) sleep through this 99.9% of the time. But right now my husband is out of town for two weeks.
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In the past I would pay a sitter to come and hang out while I was gone. That sitter has since had a baby and I don’t know anyone crazy/nice enough to babysit at that hour on a regular basis.
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I’m back and forth between letting the kids stay home by themselves and thinking I’m crazy selfish for even considering it. I’ve talked to them about me being gone and they are actually excited by the idea. I told them if they woke up they had to stay in bed until I got home. I would leave my phone for them to call me or 911 if necessary. We have a house alarm and two dogs. We know all of our neighbors.
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It is not technically illegal to leave them home alone, but the rules are a little ambiguous.  Here’s what it says on the Tennessee Council of Juvenile & Family Court Judges page:
There is no legal age for children to stay at home alone. Parents are advised to use their best judgment, keeping the child’s maturity level and safety issues in mind. Younger children have a greater need for supervision and care than older children. Obviously [!], young children under age 10 should not be left without supervision at any time….
That’s what keeps me from doing it. At least so far.
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It seems silly to be scared/nervous to leave them home, safe in their beds for 1 hour!! What do you think? — Stacey Greenberg
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Lenore here again: Stacey, your kids are sentient beings, they know how to reach you if they need you, and in a lot of the world they would be herding sheep already (alone, on a mountain), or going off to fetch water for porridge.

As for yours: Most of the time they’ll be asleep, but when they’re not they get the excitement and pride of you TRUSTING them. That’s good for them! I’m not sure I would insist they stay in bed. Maybe they can get up and play in their rooms, or something equally benign.

I am so sick of our culture that equates ANY indepedence — even the simplest act of waking up — as taboo and dangerous. Good luck. And can you call and get ME up to go to exercise, too?

Mom's at boot camp, all's right with the world.

Hi Readers! Jeffrey Goldberg penned this pretty darn perfect bit of advice in a column called, “What’s Your Problem?” in the current issue of The Atlantic. Here’s the question:

Ever since our first child was born, I have slept very poorly. When I close my eyes, my mind becomes crowded with worries. I worry about my kids’ safety, their future, college education, happiness, just about anything you could think of. Is there anything I can do to put my mind at ease?

N.E., Atlanta, Ga.

Dear N.E.,

Alas, no. You are suffering from an incurable disease called parenthood. The birth of a child is the most transcendent moment in a person’s life. It also marks the beginning of what I call “The Great Terror”…

Goldberg’s timeless advice?

To put your mind at ease, I suggest removing from your home all knives, turpentine, No. 2 pencils, bathtubs, medicine, electrical outlets, chairs, peanut butter, and stairs. You should also try to remember that many of the hazards facing our children are overblown: the Crimes Against Children Research Center, for instance, notes that rates of sexual assault, bullying, and other violence against children have declined substantially in recent years, despite media suggestions to the contrary. But statistics be damned; fear is fear. Only death frees you of worry entirely, and the onset of death brings its own anxieties. However, one advantage of death is that your children will no longer torment you with incessant demands for iPads and Ke$ha downloads.

Jeff, if you come hereto Free-Range kids: WE LOVE YOU! — L.