Thursday, July 17, 2014

Stop Helicopter Parenting Other People's Children

More and more I keep seeing news stories about parents who are turned into DCFS for silly little things like leaving their kid in the car for three minutes, on a cool day, while maintaining sight. Or, for letting their upper elementary aged kids play at the park alone, or walk home from baseball practice alone. I had a friend with an escapee (it happens, and for this mom, only once) and a neighbor called the cops. He didn't go help the kids cross the street, or ask the mom if she needed help taking care of one while the other escaped to the park ... his gut reaction was to call the cops.

It is beyond frustrating.

It isn't enough for people to helicopter their own children -- they have to helicopter parent everyone else's as well?

These articles (and blogs and personal anecdotes) have led me to read up on Lenore Skenanzy and her Free Range Kids movement. One of the most profound things I've learned is that our kids are as safe today as they were during the 30's! The 19freakin30s!

Random acts of violence and abduction are NOT a threat for our children. They just aren't. Riding in a car is much, much more dangerous. And our car safety has actually come a long way since the 30's (so has public health, considering kids aren't allowed smoke breaks at school anymore). But our kids probably aren't any healthier -- because they are constantly monitored.

In one article I came across, a parent and her spouse acknowledged (to their surprise) that their eleven-year-old daughter had never, NEVER, been unsupervised. Not even for play. The parents were shocked at this conclusion and recognized the need for change. It made sense though. The family lives in NYC, and their daughter had constant monitoring by a day care provider or her parents. Apartments in NYC are small and that didn't allow for much free range play. She was always accompanied and watched at the park or lessons/classes. The most freedom she ever had probably happened at school. Which isn't much.

So confession time:
#1 I leave my kids in the car on a fairly regular basis. I do. It is never more than 5 minutes, it is never more than 70 degrees, and they are never out of view (and it is always because Nell fell asleep and I don't want to wake her). But yes, I go drop mail at the post office, or bills at the gym, or pay for my gas while my kids wait patiently in my car. And it is absolutely ludicrous to me that I could undergo a year of investigation because of this.

#2 My kids play in our yard, unattended, every day the weather permits. I ask them to stay in the back yard ... but they wonder. They go to sides and corners where I can't see them from the kitchen window. And I don't panic. When I mow the lawn there are often ten, fifteen minute stretches where I have no idea where they are. I usually find them playing happily under our big pine tree, or digging for worms near our apple trees. Once, a neighbor came to the back door to tell us Nell was soaking wet, because she spent 5 (unsupervised) minutes playing in a random hole in our ditch that almost always holds a few inches of rain water. She was really mad when we ended her play and dried her off.

I'm so grateful I live on a street where the neighbors aren't shocked by our more 1970s approach to parenting. Afterall, 2014 is a much safer time for a kid to roam freely. Now, our greatest fear has to be some stranger accusing us of neglectful parenting. Sheesh!

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