Let parents be parents and kids be kids already

standard September 23, 2014 16 responses

Maybe it's time to let parents be parents and kids be kids.

There is an article making the rounds on the Internet titled “11-year-old girl goes on vacation alone, horrifying parents around the world.” I am no more immune to sensationalized article headers, so, like many people I clicked on the link, somewhat spurred on by the photo of a smiling girl wearing a backpack and holding her thumb up, in what I assumed was meant to make it look like she was hitchhiking.

Turns out, this 11-year-old girl was being put on a plane by her parents and being received at the other end by family members who then would take her into their home for her “vacation.”

Now, I’m sorry, but she’s far from the only 11-year-old traveling as an Unaccompanied Minor and I really don’t think that being on your own (with airline attendant supervision) on a plane is the same thing as “going on vacation” alone.

Let’s set aside for a second the sensationalization of something rather banal in the hopes of getting readers all riled up.

I traveled as an Unaccompanied Minor for the first time when I was four.

I walked to school, going from one end of town to the other, on my own, when I was 9.

I took the London Tube (the subway) and hailed cabs on my own when I was 11.

These things are not crazy. It was not a “sign of the times.” It was not irresponsible of my parents to let me do these things. They taught me to make smart decisions and then let me make them.

That is nothing more than good parenting.

The job of a parent isn’t to solely keep their child safe. It’s to teach them to be ready to live in the world. If we spend all of our time coddling and shielding our kids from the pitfalls that might, maybe, could possibly happen, all we’re doing is making it impossible for them to ever know how to manage on their own.

That’s what’s not ok.

For a time, the phenomenon was known as Helicopter Parenting. You hovered, watched, stood by, darted in to fix things when the situation started to look a bit dicey. Now it’s called Lawnmower Parenting. The parents plow through all possible obstacles, smoothing the way so their child is never challenged in any way.

Does that sound ok to you?

I’ve seen it many times. Kids who are never allowed to explore, never allowed to figure things out on their own, go hog wild when finally freed.

Imagine the teen never allowed even a tiny sip of beer at home going off to college for the first time. Imagine the child never allowed out with friends sneaking out of a window. Imagine the teen never allowed to manage his or her own money finally getting a credit card.

These things never end well.

As a parent, our job is to teach our kids to do things safely and smartly while we’re still in the wings to steer them back on path. 

America was once a great nation of innovation and grit. We had to be. There was no one to pave the road or show us the way. We can’t always be with them, so we’d better be teaching them to make good decisions. That can’t happen if there are never any decisions to make. 

Art, music, science experimentation have already been taken away from our schools. If we take away the ability to play outside, to explore, to discover the world without a hovering parent, we will be reduced to a nation of rule following, line toeing citizens, who have lost the ability to innovate and grow. 

When my kids were toddlers I let them climb onto chairs by themselves, I let them fail, let them try again, and I applauded their success when they finally reached their goal.

These days…

I let my kids play for hours without checking in to see what they’re doing.

I let my kids go to the bathroom on their own in restaurants.

I let my kids play with toys and art supplies as they see fit, even if it’s not according to manufacturer’s instructions.

I let my kids try daring stunts on playground equipment.

I let my kids climb trees.

I let my kids walk home from school with friends.

I let my kids walk to their friends’ house down the street.

I let my kids walk the dog on their own.

I let my kids make their own breakfast.

I let my kids do their own homework.

I let my kids make mistakes, and fix them on their own.

I let my kids have hours and hours of unstructured, unscheduled time.

I let my kids get bored… and then find their own way out of that boredom. 

I consider myself their coach and their encouragement. I don’t do things for them. I don’t pave the road they travel. 

We used to be a nation of problem solvers. If our children never have to face any problems, how will they ever develop that skill? 

We are reaching a ridiculous state where it seems to no longer be acceptable to parent in a way that will allow our kids to grow up strong, smart, independent, and able.

That’s not just a crying shame. That’s a crime.

Child monkeying around at the park

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16 responses

  • First of all… hi! I’m glad I had the opportunity to land here, in this little corner of the ‘w(eb)orld’. It was casual, but nice.

    And I was so struck by what you wrote that I decided to leave a comment here, though you don’t know me.

    Children shouldn’t grow under a bell jar: sometimes parents think they’re like butterflies to collect or dolls you can put in your china cabinet. As far as I remember, my parents have always let me run freely, devouring my indipendence, but they stopped me as soon as I was running too fast to even know where I was going. Thanks to them, now I run with my eyes wide open and don’t panic if I take a wrong turn. I learned how to slow down.

    Thanks for your time! G

  • Heidi

    Thank you for capturing so perfectly what I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I hope this spreads far and wide, and that it helps us regain some common sense in this country! It’s time for the pendulum to swing back towards letting our kids learn practical skills, as well as academic ones. Otherwise, we may end up with a nation of young “adults” with advanced degrees who can’t figure out how to cross the street alone.

  • Heather Marklein

    Well said! My mom was definitely NOT a helicopter nor lawn mower parent and I think for the most part, it was very instrumental in my growing up to be a “can do” kinda gal. I flew once a month as an unaccompanied minor from LA to Monterey, beginning at age 6. I made my own lunches and did my own laundry. I think part of the problem is the media spotlight on every single abduction makes parents think the world is unsafe for their kids to manage on their own. The reality is, it is a safer place than ever before, statistically speaking.

  • I hadn’t heard the term Lawn Mower Parent before but I love it! Yes to all of this – and this echoes so many parenting books I have read lately.
    Although I will say that it is MUCH harder to implement than to believe in. Ultimately, we are responsible for our kids’ safety so it is hard to let go and let them fall sometimes.
    But yes, I completely agree with you and so well said.

  • AMEN. Kids need to make mistakes now so they don’t have to make bigger mistakes as teens and adults. They need space and room to be independent alongside some gentle guidance and lots of love.

    I couldn’t believe when I saw that headline. My sister, cousins, and I all started flying unaccompanied around age 8 to visit my grandparents. They lived in Florida about an hour away from Disney and right near the beach. It was a great experience and one that I only wish I could’ve done longer. As the baby I got the least number of years. 😉

  • This is exactly how I parent. We can’t do it for them, they have to grow up themselves. Our job is to teach them how not to need us!
    We need more parents to realise they are doing their children no favours by doing everything for the kids and saving them at every turn. Thank you for sharing this.

  • suma veerab

    It is easier to exercise the kind of freedom mentioned in this article when children are in elementary school. It is hard to separate freedom from responsibility as kids enter middle or high school. In high school, freedom can be interpreted to mean, ” doing whatever one likes to do”. This framework can lead to moral dilemmas and interpersonal conflicts about issues such as nature of society vs individual, and social responsibility of teenagers.

    • jessica

      For sure, but kids who have experienced more freedom as elementary students are better prepared to handle the added responsibility as pre-teens and teens.

  • Dwight

    I saw the “oppressed” children when I went to college and it was amazing. Those kids who had never had any freedom ended up failing in university because they were too busy discovering their new found freedoms. One particular kid was a devout Mormon, finally freed from the womb of his parent’s home-church. At the beginning of the year he was a very sweet kid, by the end of the year, we would see him in class still drunk from the night before on a regular basis. He failed out of the program. $40,000.00 later.

  • Crystal W

    Whaaaaattt? Kids can cook their own breakfast?? Hallelujah I’m going back to bed! Might need to put some batteries in fire alarm first though…

    • jessica

      Not sure how old your kids are Crystal, but my 9yo and 7yo are definitely old enough to make themselves a bowl of cereal in the morning.

  • It really has gotten out of control how what was seen as good parenting years ago is now seen as a problem or even worse, neglect! I remember when my youngest (now 19) was in 5th grade (last year in elementary school) the (crazy) principal made a rule to stop kids from running around on the playground to “protect” them from getting hurt. Of course we didn’t want our kids hurt BUT for goodness sake, stopping them from playing and running during recess? That was ridiculous!

  • […] now by letting them live a little more, be a little more who they are, and do more each year. And read this. And watch this video below. Yes, Mike Rowe is advertising his new show, but it’s a great […]

  • I really appreciate parenthood who lets the children doing what they want; by not just leaving them alone – but try to guide them a bit. I like your idea of don’t pave the road they are travelling. 🙂

    I was one of the children who don’t really have freedom during my childhood. When I get into college, I was exposed to so many things that I had no ideas what they are. But, I was grateful when my parents and good friends still guide me in giving opinions to choose what’s good.

  • I really like this bit “We are reaching a ridiculous state where it seems to no longer be acceptable to parent in a way that will allow our kids to grow up strong, smart, independent, and able.”

    YES. I really don’t understand this constant catering to kid’s needs, where they may cater to them themselves. What drives me absolutely crazy is how in the US kids are so overscheduled, and then driven around by exhausted parents who try to keep up with all these activities that *they* signed up the kids for. And for what? So that they are not bored? Perish the thought!! When did we make it our responsibility to provide entertainment for every second of our kids’ lives? Shouldn’t they have the chance to become masters of their own free time?

    Great post.

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