2 College Presidents Beg Parents to Hover…in a New Way

Hi Folks — Just reading an early copy of an oped to be published in tomorrow’s Washington Post by the president of Northwestern University,Morty Schapiro, and the president of Lewis & Clark College,Barry Glassner, who is author of the book (turned phrase) The Culture of Fear.

Instead of merely telling parents to quit helicoptering when they drop their kids off at college — a tactic that they admit does not work — the dynamic duo do something I call “yuppie jujitsu.” They flip the parents’ own need for hovering into a way for them to let go. In this case, they tell parents that rather than swooping in to help their kids get something “better” —  be it a room, roommate or  grade — they should swoop in to remind their kids, “You can handle this! A little discomfort is good! You’re stretching!” As the presidents write:

…parents can help by gently pushing their children to embrace complexity and diversity and to stretch the limits of their comfort zones. Some of the most important learning we provide is uncomfortable learning — where students take classes in subjects they find intimidating, and live, study and play with classmates from backgrounds very different from their own.

This is so brilliant because it gives parents who, God bless ‘em, only want to help, something constructive to do. It makes backing off into an ACTIVE way to HELP their kids. That is pure genius! I’m going to use it myself! The authors conclude with the kind of encouraging praise the parents have perfected themselves:

Having raised smart and accomplished kids, most parents are able, with a little guidance, to recognize the difference between being a constructive partner in their child’s educational journey and being a counterproductive, infantilizing, control freak.

The goal here at Free-Range Kids is to help them realize this before their kids are 18. But it’s great to know that, should we fail, the message awaits at college.

Hey Parents! Drop your kids off and then…

The Flashcard Backlash!

Hi Readers — Lovely article by Tara Parker-Pope in today’s New York Times about how we have been led astray by the flashcard mentality that says the more we DRILL our littlest students the SMARTER they become.

On the surface of it, the drilling idea makes sense: Why not efficiently shove info into our kids? Here’s the info, kids: Shove it!

But all the research (not to mention a million years of human development BEFORE flashcards) is suggesting that the way kids really learn is through PLAY. Even a game like Simon Says — or a variation that’s “Do the Opposite of What Simon Says” — can give a lot more developmental boost than another afternoon of  learning “F is for Foot.”

While the game may sound simple, it actually requires a high level of cognitive function for a preschooler, including focus and attention, working memory to remember rules, mental flexibility (to do the opposite) and self-control.

“We tend to equate learning with the content of learning, with what information children have, rather than the how of learning,” says Ellen Galinsky, a child-development researcher and author of “Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs.” “But focusing on the how of learning, on executive functions, gives you the skills to learn new information, which is why they tend to be so predictive of long-term success.”

You probably know that I dislike having to endorse a Free-Range approach because it is actually a “long-term success” incubator. But, hey, if you’re talking to parents who really believe LESS playtime means their kids will be MORE triumphant, it’s not bad to have a little ammo. – L.

Flashcards are fine…but not at the expense of play!

A Conversation with an Older Man

Hi Folks — To be filed under, “What we’ve lost.” Or maybe, “What Free-Range Kids is working  to bring back.” – L. 

Dear Free-Range Kids: I had an interesting experience in the Target parking lot today. While
I was unloading my cart, an older man passed and complimented me on my
four kids. I thanked him, and we struck up a conversation.

When my three-year-old shyly turned away from the man, he said,

“That’s right, I forgot you’re not supposed to talk to strangers these
days.” And he turned to leave.

I said, “No sir, I teach my children that it’s okay to talk to
strangers. They need to learn how to speak with adults. I just teach
them never to go anywhere with a stranger.”

The man said, “Yeah, when I was in my 40s and 50s, I always pictured
myself sitting on a park bench one day, giving dollar bills to little
children. But some wackos messed that up for the rest of us. Can’t do
that anymore.”

I told him the world was worse off for it, and I try to teach my
children that most people are good and it’s okay to interact with
people of all ages.

The man started to leave again, but then abruptly turned around,
pulled out his wallet, and gave each of my kids a $1 bill. I wanted to
decline, mainly because I like my kids to earn their money, but I
could see how delighted they were, and how pleased the man was that he
could do that for him. I realized this man probably genuinely enjoys
interacting with children, and we live in a world where he may not
have an opportunity to do so.

I wonder what our children could learn from old men sitting on park benches.

Lauren Richins

A Question About Dad Driving the Babysitter

Dear Readers — This letter got me wondering, too. Eagerly awaiting your answers. – L

Dear Free-Range Kids:  I found your blog recently and have been going through all of your past posts (driving my hubby crazy with “listen to this…..!”).  I have been a Free-Range mom for years now (10 years, 5 kids), and I am glad to now realize that I am not as alone as I had previously thought.  My son is 10 going on 30 and organizes his own lemonade stand, bikes to the library by himself, runs into the grocery store for me so I can sit in the van with the kids…. now my 7-year-old daughter is starting to follow in his footsteps.  It’s amazing the confidence that comes with these freedoms.

Now the reason I write is to ask you this:  In my community it is understood that the father NEVER drives the babysitter (typically a girl) home.  I am convinced that this is a conspiracy concocted by men who do not want to be the designated driver.  But, the mothers all say that this is just for the babysitters’ safety, and for the man’s safety because “misunderstandings” and false accusations do happen.  Plus, it’s awkward for a man to be alone in a car with a teenage girl, they say.  My driver’s license is recently suspended due to a seizure and I cannot drive the babysitter home anymore.  My son can’t take the babysitter course for another year, and I know he isn’t ready for these responsibilities just yet.  Is it really unreasonable to have my husband drive the babysitter home? And is this policy a universal one? Just curious! — Courtenay

Only mom can drive the babysitter home?

Guest Post: Parents — Reach for the Duct Tape

Hi Readers! Here’s a little list of tips from Vicki Hoefle, author of the brand-new book: Duct Tape Parenting: A Less is More Approach to Raising Respectful, Responsible and Resilient Kids. – L

5 Simple Ways to Let Go and Raise a Resilient Child, by Vicki Hoefle

Hey there Free-Rangers! I want to give a quick kudos to you for encouraging your children to take reasonable risks. It takes courage to foster independence in a world that prefers to hover and hyper-protect. By stepping out of the way and trusting them, you are enabling resiliency, confidence, courage and independence in your kids. Thank you and keep up the radical faith, folks!

If you start to lose a little steam or you begin to hear the chopper blades grind, here are a few things you can do to bring yourself back into the “less is more” parenting mode.

1. Try saying yes. Sometimes, we simply say NO because it’s habit, or it’ll take too long or we’re not sure they can handle it or it will be messy. This is a choice of convenience (for us) over experience (for the kids). Luckily, it’s an easy habit to work on so consider yes before you throw out an automatic no!

2. Ignore the mess. Engaged, thinking, curious kids are messy and they don’t always look perfect, have their stuff together or make the “right choices.” Yep, they might say the wrong thing (and make you blush), forget their homework or wear mismatched clothes. Give yourself permission to stop “tidying up” for them and celebrate independence!

3. Encourage your child to do for himself.  Kids ask for all kinds of help that they really don’t need us for. “Can you get me a drink?” “Can you find my hat?” And so forth. Encouraging kids to do it themselves is vital to them developing self, home and life skills – and it’s a natural confidence booster.  Remember it’s about practice, not perfection, so keep your expectations reasonable.

4. Hang Back vs. Hovering. It’s easy to watch our kids try and succeed but it’s hard to watch when they make mistakes or fail.  If we can hang back, though, we’ll watch our kids solve the problems they create in creative and often surprising ways. Hanging back and observing sends a message that you trust your child to try and yes, to fail is just fine.  This is certainly good for resiliency!

5. Zip the Mouth. Technically, this is easy but mentally, it can be fiercely challenging. (I put duct tape over my bossy mouth!) Some parents talk all day long (without realizing)– correcting, nagging, reminding, chiming in, etc. This “noise” interferes with a child’s decision-making process and puts the thinking on mom or dad’s plate. It’s counter-productive if we want kids to know how to figure things out vs. calling mom or dad for everything, right? Right!

When is A Bumbo Seat Safe Enough?

Hi Folks! Just read about this warning regarding Bumbo Seats — little seats that look even safer than normal seats because there’s a big, hmmm, I guess “bumbo” in front of the crotch, wedging the child in. (See below.) About 4 million — that’s 4,000,000 — have been sold. And now they are being recalled for retooling — basically adding a safety belt — after reports of 2 baby skull fractures. (Two, that is, while the seat was on the ground. Another 19 occurred when the seat was on a raised surface and presumably the child fell out or off.)

Now, look, nobody wants a baby’s skull fractured. (Do they?) But listen to this quote in USA Today:

“Too many children were injured while using this product,” says Consumer Federation of America product safety director Rachel Weintraub. “The fact that the manufacturer is changing the product by including restraints is incredibly significant.”

It is INDEED significant, in that it indicates that any manufacturer can be coerced into a product recall if someone insinuates that without it, the manufacturer DOESN’T CARE ABOUT BROKEN BABY SKULLS. The specter of a lawsuit, or boycott, or just a glaring TV talk show host is enough to make any company quake in its booties.

But when something is safe 99.999% of the time (I’m sure one of you will do the actual math), is that not SAFE ENOUGH? As the reader who sent me notice of the recall said, “Why don’t we recall laps, while we’re at it?”

Well? Why DON’T we? After all, laps are non-standard, germy, and once in a while there’s a cat vying for the same space. Unsafe! Unclean! Unfair! Let us officially recommend parents come in for an emergency lap repair kit allowing a neighborhood surgeon to graft a restraining belt onto all adult tummies.

Oh — not willing to have a belt grafted on? I guess you don’t CARE about babies’ skulls. – L.

 photo

Wow does that seat look extremely unsafe.

Guest Post: Danger Sells

Hi Folks — Here’s a little essay reminding us that the push to sell ever more things dovetails with the push for us to fear ever more  new things. It comes to us from Kassandra  Brown, who says she “supports women in transition and conscious parenting.” – L

Danger Sells

The biggest backlash to Free-Range Kids is safety. Lenore talks about the perception of danger induced by news and media. The media offers us an onslaught of information about how unsafe the world is, how unsafe our children are, and how much they need protection.  I won’t replicate her information here. Instead, I’ll introduce another factor in the danger debate.

Danger is big business. We are presented with devices and services to buy in order to make our children safer. If we feel like there is danger out there, we are more likely to buy things to make us feel safer in here. We are less likely to think for ourselves, take our time making decisions, or weigh the choices. We are more likely to stick with the herd. Creating a perception of danger is amazingly effective crowd control.

What can we do?  Well, what if we just admitted the world isn’t safe? That it’s mysterious? Amazing? Tragic? Beautiful?  Because it is. Life is never completely without some chance of defeat, or even death. Life is not safe. Our desire to make it so means that we create more numbing-out, less honesty — and a lot more trash.

What if we admitted we can’t control everything our children experience? Children are people too. We cannot shield them from every upset, every hurt. Their hearts may break. They may suffer. But we can offer them loving presence. We can offer them the role model of ourselves living full, vibrant lives. We can get back up and try again after we fail.  We can let them see us risking our own safety by being emotionally vulnerable and honest.

What if we admitted that we’re being manipulated by marketing, government, and propaganda? When our economy is based on continuous expansion, the government is not neutral. It wants us to buy the new product in order to grow the economy. And if it’s supposed to make us safer, then government agencies can feel like good parents protecting their children.

I invite you to be brave. Take the time to know your own heart and listen to your own deep yearnings. Turn off the TV. Look yourself in the eye and then meet the eyes of your child. Step into the realm of real human connection. It’s messy. But you’ll feel more alive than you do watching the best reality TV show. — Kassandra Brown

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