My bucolic hometown of Murrysville, PA...a place where the kids (used to) run free
by John Dankosky – I have a friend, who lives in rural Vermont….In a community where neighbors are sometimes separated by acres of farmland. It’s a peaceful, idyllic setting…even more so than the suburbs we both grew up in.
He’s got two young boys…and when we talk about how he’s raising his kids, he says some things that surprise me.
When he and I grew up together, we were able to walk just about anywhere and do just about anything. We’d come home for dinner on time…and our parents didn’t worry about it – at least we didn’t think so. Now, a parent himself, he says he has worries about letting his kids walk down the street alone. For fear of what might happen…and for fear of what neighbors might think.
Many parents say the world is a scary place – and they need to closely guard their kids every move. But this method of raising your kids has taken on a somewhat derogatory term: “Helicopter Parenting.” That means GPS tracers in backpacks…it means calling the dean of students to make sure Johnny’s being treated well at college. On today’s Where We Live, we were joined by two authors who’ve written about this phenomenon.
Lenore Skenazy’s book, “Free Range Kids” looks at parenting through the eyes of “America’s Worst Mom,” so dubbed because of (supposedly) scandalous independence lesson for her 9-year-old son: Letting him ride the NYC subway solo. Here’s one of the comments we got:
Facebook friend Dan Ferreira writes: When I was 9 or 10 years old my parents were divorced with one living in northern virginia and the other in downtown DC. My parents used to put me on the Metro to go back and forth by myself all the time. I never thought of it as much of a big deal. If the child is mature enough and independent enough to handle it, I don’t see why it’s anyone else’s business. Emailer Melissa writes - I love Lenore’s ideas, I think they are 100% correct. I would love to free range my kids ( I have 3 of them between the ages of 5 to 10) but I would feel more comfortable if everyone else did too, like in the old days. Being one of many children around and about in the neighborhood seemed like there was some safety in that. I would feel better if my children were among a crowd of neighborhood kids walking to the playground like we used to do. I am ready to let them go, but until others are doing the same, it seems that it would be unwise. Also, in the old days, people in the community seemed to feel a communal responsibility for the children who were out. If someone saw something that didn’t look safe or smart, they could talk to the kids. Now, it seems it’s best not to talk to or discipline other’s children.
Then, I read another email comment…which our listener feels was taken out of context. I think she’s right:
Hi, I’m Jennifer from the Dan and Jennifer discussion on facebook that you brought up this morning. I wanted to comment, in part, because I was misquoted. You said that I thought Ms. Skenazy should be thrown in jail for allowing her 9 year old to ride the subway. In fact, I specifically stated “I don’t think she should be tossed in jail, but I disagree with her choices” earlier in the discussion. You also took my comments way out of context, implying that I think for a 9 year old getting soda from the soda machine will teach independence. I was referring to my own child, who is only 5, and the small things you can do to teach a child of his age self sufficiency. I also found it interesting that Ms. Skenazy would judge me (perhaps jokingly, I don’t know for sure) for allowing my child to drink soda, clearly because I think that she takes her philosophy to the extreme. Sure, I agree that children do not need their hands held throughout life – which is why I also stated that I don’t help my kid the first time he asks for something. Sure, I agree that young adults who are overly sheltered as children end up lost in the world. But I do not agree that letting your child ride the subway is the best – or only – way to make for a well adjusted adult. My parents didn’t allow me to do whatever I attempted to convince them I was ready for, and yet somehow I managed to grow up not simply the opposite of timid, but ambitious and accomplished (I moved out of their house at 18, went to college, got married, went to law school, had a baby, passed the bar, got a job, got divorced, bought a house on a single income). And I let my child do things that other parents might not. He rock climbs – but with a harness and experienced climbers. He rides his bike in our court while I’m not watching 100% of the time – but he wears a helmet. I’m taking him snowboarding next weekend, where he’ll undoubtedly leave my parental grasp – but I’ll leave him in the care of a teacher – and he’ll be wearing a helmet then too. If that makes me a helicopter parent, then so be it. But I don’t agree that letting your 9 year old ride the subway in NYC is anything like letting go of the handlebars in the suburbs.
Emailer Evan Smith – Growing up my family did a lot of commuting from New Haven to the Berkshires in MA. I grew up doing a lot of biking around New Haven and starting at age 10 (1973) I started riding the 100 mile college highway trip alone. The positive experiences from my treks taught me a lot about interacting independently in the ’big bad world’ and I gained a lot of wisdom, confidence (and physical strength) from my endeavors. I remember being scared to take the bus or train at 9 years old from New Haven to Boston to visit relatives but the successful trips became a formative stepping stone.
Our other guest, Hara Estroff Marano’s book is less delicately titled “A Nation of Wimps”
about how over-protective parents turn out fearful, disengaged college students. She generated this thought from Bob Antaramian of West Hartford:
It has taken me years, my entire life, to recover from an over protective father. I was the youngest boy, and wanted to have confidence, but was held back by self doubt. I understand why my father was protective, we lost my mother when I was an infant, and my oldest brother when I was 10, and he did his best to keep me safe. Also, I was a shy kid. But I had to fight the lack of self confidence, and push myself to take risks just to unlearn the fear of trying something new. This is a great show!!!
Well, thanks, Bob.