Here’s what Psychology Today’s Susan Newman has to say on the smothering issue: http://tinyurl.com/dcssf3
And here’s what I have to say: I really don’t believe that kids who are overprotected will all end up crippled with incompetence and fear when they grow up. In a way, that’s too bad, because it would probably be great for my book sales: Raise your kids “Free-Range” or forget it! They’ll be living in your guest room till they’re 60! And they STILL won’t make their beds.
But really, the reason I believe in raising kids Free-Range is this: They only get one childhood, and childhood’s magic words are these: “I did it myself.”
As in, “I rode without the training wheels!” Not, “I rode with mommy holding onto the back of my bike in case I fell!”
Equally exhilarating: I made dinner! I found this cool rock on my way to school! I bought a Father’s Day present with the money I got from babysitting!
Take away all those opportunities, and kids are deprived. Not deprived of the things we can buy them — lessons and toys and the trophies they get for showing up for soccer. Deprived of adventures and self-confidence and responsibility, the Wonder Bread of childhood — the stuff they grow up on. (Imagine it as whole wheat Wonder Bread if that helps.)
Free-Range parents also get something out of the deal: A life not slavishly devoted to doing things 24/7 for their kids. Not that Free Rangers are slackers (well, maybe a little bit…). But is it necessary to drive our kids to the bus stop every morning? No. Not for safety’s sake. (Our crime rate is back to what it was in 1970.) Not because this new generation melts in the rain. And not because bus stops have somehow crept further from home. So why spend every morning there, silently teaching our kids that they couldn’t possibly do this simple thing on their own? Free-Range parents know that not everything in childhood is so dangerous or difficult that it requires constant parental presence.
Some days I walk my younger son to school. (Yes, the boy who took the subway.) Some days I don’t. When we walk together, I find myself saying things like, “LOOK UP! THAT IS A CAR! WATCH OUT!” I grab his pre-teen hand. A little smothering, if you will.
But on the days he goes by himself, I don’t think that he’ll feel abandonned or be snatched or forget to look both ways before crossing the street. Free-Range folks believe in their kids’ resourcefulness, in the basic decency of most strangers, and in their own parenting abilities.
How’s that for a radical approach to childrearing? “Give your kids some freedom, give them some hugs, and don’t worry so much about the perfect smothering/mothering ratio. The end.”