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“Independence Therapy” in The New York Times! And Me, Too!

It is not a new observation that today’s kids are increasingly in adult-run classes, clubs, sports. Or they’re inside, online, instead of riding bikes, or collecting rocks, or talking to some rando.

“While there could be many reasons our kids are suffering, what if the problem was simply this: Kids are growing up so over-protected that they’re scared of the world?

“If so, the solution would be simple, too: Start letting them do more things on their own.” 

That’s what Long Island University Psychology Prof. Camilo Ortiz and I suggest in our essay in today’s New York Times titled,  “This Simple Fix Could Help Anxious Kids.

A fear fix that’s free?

The piece talks about how schools can make it easy for kids to start becoming more independent by assigning The Let Grow Project — now expanded into a year-long Let Grow Experience. (All our materials are free.)

The Project/Experience tells K-8 students to, “Go home and do something new, on your own — with your parents’ permission, of course.” Kids can walk to school, bake a cake, go to the store — just something that they’d like to try, but haven’t yet.

When the parents let go, the kids come back changed. Really! That, in turn, changes their parents.

Independence as a new type of “therapy.”

The co-author of this piece, Dr. Ortiz, had heard about Let Grow. He’s a clinical therapist who treats a lot of kids diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Often he uses Cognitive Behavior Therapy, which asks the patient to face their fears. He wondered if instead, he could simply ask the kids to start doing new things on their own that they WANTED to do.

In other words, the treatment would be a mega dose of independence.

For a pilot study he conducted with PhD candidate Matthew Fastman, Dr. Ortiz met with five patients, age 9-14, and their parents, once a week for five weeks. (Not in a group. Each family was separate.) He asked the kids what they’d like to try doing on their own. They had a lot of ideas! Go to the park. Sell bracelets at school. Take the commuter train. Each kid did 10-20 things over the course of five visits.

Does it work?

Hoo boy! It worked so well that Dr. Ortiz wrote up a manual for other clinicians. If you’re a therapist, you can get it here (free!). If you are a teacher or administrator, you can get The Let Grow Experience materials here (free!). And if you are a parent, you can take our Pledge of Independence here — for $1 million dollars.*

*Just kidding. It’s free, too.

I’m thrilled to be on The Times opinion page. Only the second time in my life! Let’s hope the simple idea of giving kids back some independence can spread quickly, making lots of kids feel more confident and curious about that big old world out there!

(And please consider supporting Let Grow. Your donation will help bring independence to children all over the country!)

2 Responses to “Independence Therapy” in The New York Times! And Me, Too!

  1. Marc September 8, 2023 at 4:25 am #

    Dear Lenore, me my wife and our 13 year old daughter are from Germany and attended an English language school in central London where we came across an article about kids and freedom. After school and discussing the article about your 9 year old son travelling home alone in New York City underground we decided that our daughter could travel back to the host family in the outskirts of London by herself. She knew the way home from school and she very proud afterwards!

    Now we are having another challenge soon: she will participate in an school exchange between her German school and a school in Sillicon Valley California. Three teachers from her class accompany the group of 10 pupils, they will be staying in host families whose kids in turn will come to Germany next year. As time of departure is approaching I have to admit that’s quite scary my daughter is so far away in a strange country.. of course it will be a once in a lifetime experience for her and the school has a good reputation.. but I constantly overthink it and I’m quite insecure if it is the right thing to do.. what is your opinion? I am curious.. best regards Marc

  2. Sarah Johnstone September 9, 2023 at 7:32 pm #

    Wow, just found this page as linked from ‘Teacher Tom’s’ page. So 8th grade is age 13/14 right? I’m kind of blown away that kids DON’T routinely do some (all!) of the things listed in this article, what kind of teenager wants to be asking permission to even head to a local shop/store?! I have no doubt that in some areas the UK isn’t far behind, but at least from year 5 (6 latest), so 9-11 yo, children are allowed/encouraged to walk to school solo (ie. their parents aren’t expected there at pickup time), which I think is entirely appropriate, and could clearly be earlier if you look at the Japanese and their 6/7yo’s navigating the Tokyo subway on their own!
    It wasn’t always thus – I was reading the Louise Ames Bates ‘Your X year old’ books (written in the ’60s) the other day for the development insights, and it states that many 5 year olds will be ok to head to a local store to run errands..I can only assume she means alone! How times have changed.
    PS. Marc above, I am reasonably sure it will be a big success for your daughter, and an experience she’ll never forget 🙂