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…

How Should a School Respond When ONE Parent Says, “That’s Too Dangerous!” ?

Hi Readers! Over in jolly ol’ England,  there’s a man I revere named Tim Gill who runs the blog Rethinking Childhood, and wrote the book No Fear: Growing Up in a Risk Averse Society. This most recent post of his is SO GOOD — and asks such an important question — I asked if i could run part of it here. Replied Tim, “Take the whole thing!” See what I mean? A great guy. – L

WHEN ANXIOUS PARENTS ARE THE PROBLEM, WHAT IS THE SOLUTION? by TIM GILL

How should schools, nurseries, kindergartens and other education, childcare and play services respond to anxious parents? I was asked this question recently by an Australian early years educator who heard me speak a couple of months ago.

She explained that her setting’s outdoor space was very small and sparse, but that it was located in some more extensive school grounds. She was keen to take the children into the grounds, so they could play games that they do not have room for in their own yard. She wanted to do this, not only because of the extra space, but also to prepare the children for the transition to the ‘big school’ that many of them would soon be joining. She continues:

Unfortunately, one parent has refused permission for their child to have anything to do with the school, because “she’s not going to that school next year”. I’ve spoken to my managers, and there’s nothing I can do about one parent preventing all the children from going to the school. I am not able to ask the child to stay home on those days. I am not able to leave her with one staff member at the setting. I am not able to leave her at the school office. And when I appealed to the mother she said that it is my problem.

It is amazing that one parent can determine what all the other children will be able to do! I asked my managers if they could make it a compulsory policy from next year’s enrolments that parents give permission before enrolling to access the school grounds. However, they said no, as I am supposed to engage with our community, according to regulations.

They did say they would look into it, as they hadn’t come across a parent like this before. I said they should, because there’s always one parent! If a parent doesn’t give permission then it’s certainly to their child’s detriment, but to affect everybody else’s rights to go on an excursion or to do an activity that is deemed beneficial and educational is not right.

Note the real problem here. It is not parents as a group. It’s that because of the policies and procedures of the setting, the views of a single parent are enough to derail things.

baby-knee-padsParents, like the rest of us, are on a spectrum when it comes to their attitude to risk. At one end of this spectrum, some parents apparently feel the need to protect their children through against all possible harm, even the harm from crawling on a hardwood floor.

All too often, systems and procedures effectively give risk averse parents a veto. Schools, services and settings feel under pressure to set their benchmark at the level of the most anxious parent. Often, the result is that all children lose out on some vital learning experiences.

My take-home message to services – and especially service managers – is simple. If you want to allow all children the chance to spread their wings a little, you cannot set your bar at the level of the most anxious parent. In the nicest possible way, you need to be assertive with the ones at the fearful end of the spectrum. They should not be allowed to think that they have a veto on what you offer to children.

Readers: How about you? How worried are you about the influence of anxious parents? What messages do parents get about your values – for instance, in your publicity materials, or your mission statement – and how well do these values square up with your practice? Have you succeeded in winning the more risk-averse over to the idea of expanding children’s horizons? Or do your procedures get in the way? I would love to hear your views and ideas. – -T.G.

Me too! – L.S.

P.S. You might want to check out the comments on Tim’s blog. Some good ones! 

 

Letter: I Was Abused as a Child and I am a Free-Range Mom

Hi Folks — Just got this stirring letter from a mom named Cathy. She was responding to a comment on the Free-Range For or Against forum by another mom, Heather, whose father was an abuser. Heather believes that an adult who doesn’t want to constantly supervise his/her kids is not only putting them in  danger, but has “issues” and needs psychological help.  – L.

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@ Heather-I am so sorry for the pain and trauma and immense fear you obviously still carry around with you. I hope you are in treatment.

I am a survivor of physical abuse at the hands of my bio parents, sexual abuse at the hands of a very trusted religious leader, and rape by 3 different men during my teens and young adulthood. It took me years of treatment to be able to let go of my paranoia that everyone was out to hurt me. Becoming a mother brought back those fears some, especially since I am the mother of 2, soon to be 3, little girls!

Thankfully, my therapy worked and unlike many survivors I do not live in fear for my kids. I am watchful, yes. I am careful about who i trust them with. But i certainly don’t fear every stranger on the street or every man who might smile at my kids. In my years of treatment and using online forums I have only once or twice come across someone who was sexually abused or raped by someone they didn’t know. The idea that strangers are dangerous is what is silly. the number of people hurt by strangers is very low.

I will give my kids freedom to play and be confident to be out without me by their side 24/7 because it’s what is best for them. Because truth is even if I try to smother them with my presence and “protect” them 24/7…it can still happen. My own (adoptive) parents were pretty overprotective of me. But that didn’t protect me. Fact is, you can’t stop bad things from happening by living in fear and paranoia of all the “what ifs” ….and i refuse to put my kids in a bubble and destroy their childhood because something *might* happen. I will teach them to be safe, teach them to trust me and come to me if anyone ever makes them uncomfortable or does anything improper. The biggest problem with children being sexually abused is that parents never want to believe it, the kids fear they won’t be believed and often aren’t… because it’s very very rarely some random old man at the park wanting to luck out with some kid they’ve never seen before. That old man is gonna go for the easier target of his grandkids, not waste time hoping to catch a kid alone at the park.

I hope very much my girls never have to experience anything like I have. I will do my best to make sure that never happens. but I will not do that by making them grow up in fear of being alone. I will teach them to be safe, not keep them oblivious and wrongfully think I can be there 24/7 to protect them. It’s impossible to be there all the time. We’ve gotta teach them to be confident, free, and knowledgeable and able to protect themselves. – Cathy

In The Kitchen, Talking About Etan, As The Kids Play Outside

Hi Readers — Just got this letter from “Steph in Minneapolis.” Loved it. You will, too.  – L. 

Dear Free-Range Kids: On Saturday afternoon, the neighbor kids rang the bell and off ran our almost 8-year-old daughter to wander the block, chalking sidewalks and digging worms.  Then we stood in the kitchen and talked about Etan Patz.  The unthinkable happened, for that family lightening did strike and as parents we can’t imagine their pain.

For us though, the solution is not tying our daughter to our apron strings.  It is teaching her to listen to her gut and giving her permission to take any course of action that makes her feel safe.  She asked me once, what if an adult makes me feel uncomfortable and I kick them and run away but it wasn’t the right thing?  I said, taking care of a problem like that is a mom job. You just do what you think is right at the time.  Being confident and empowered is not a guarantee that she will be safe, but on some level you have to count on lightening not striking or you’d never leave your house.

We live on a busy city street with lots of car traffic in a working class urban neighborhood.  There is a lot to look out for, and it means that our daughter’s range is smaller than ours was at her age, but she does spend most of her weekend out of our sight and I am glad for that.  It’s called having a childhood.

After our talk in the kitchen on Saturday, I admit it, I peeked outside to see where DD was, and I called her to come home immediately. Why?

The kids were riding bikes without helmets and I made her come home for hers. The risk of a head injury from biking, while still tiny, is much larger than the risk of being abducted off the street.

Of course, she rolled her eyes at me and declared that I am “overprotective.”  :-). Then she went out to ride some more, and I let her. — Steff

“What If?”-ing Seniors the Way We “What If?!?” Kids

Hi Folks! Here’s an excerpt from an essay in The Houston Chronicle by 90 year old Leon Hale. He is pondering a personal “test” — driving his pick up around the downtown loop — to make sure he’s still in fine fettle. He feels good, his eyes are good, his writing is great so — why not? But his friends are less encouraging:

Those who want me to quit the test say, “What if you get rear-ended by an 18-wheeler? What if you had a flat tire going over the Ship Channel Bridge? What if a dog ran out on the freeway and you swerved to miss it and hit another car?”

But they’re not trying very hard. Lots more interesting and horrible stuff could happen.

What if a large bird, such as a buzzard, flew through my windshield and shattered it?

What if a helicopter crashed on the freeway and, of all the vehicles on the Loop, landed on top of my pickup? It could happen.

What if, while I was going around, Houston had an earthquake? We’ve never had an earthquake, so maybe we’re due one.

When I was 10 years old, in my school we had an assignment called current events. The forerunner of show and tell, I think. Each student clipped a news story out of the paper and got up at school and summarized the event.

I had found an item about a meteorite crashing through a barn in Germany, killing a cow. Mrs. Carter, our teacher, said after I gave my little talk, “Just think. Even cows in their barns are not safe.”

Just think: We’ve been imagining worst case scenarios for 80 years, and now it’s a national pastime. We think we are just being smart and protective, when actually we are being incredibly pessimistic and distrusting. We especially do it when it comes to our kids and, apparently, our elders. We underestimate them both. — L

Ooh, an old person! How cute and, by definition, in danger!

Help Needed: A Friendly Kid, a Scolding Neighbor

Hi Readers! Can you help this mom? L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: I’ve been reading your blog and readers’ comments for better than a year now.  Never really thought I’d have an experience similar to the ones I read about on your blog, but yesterday it happened.  My children are nearly-5 (boy) and 3.5 (girl).  We live in a very safe neighborhood in the Midwest, with wide sidewalks.  Thankfully, I can report that I frequently see many of children playing in their yards or at our local park (without helicoptering parents), and riding their bikes to our neighborhood school.  There is definitely a Free-Range mentalilty among many of my neighbors.

Yesterday I was outside with my children, cleaning out the garage while they were playing out front.  My daughter was riding her scooter up and down the sidewalk.  She knows she can take it as far as the neighbors’ homes that are two away from us on each side.  She never goes farther than she should, and at any given time, she’s no more than 50 feet from our front yard.  My son was playing with his trains on the driveway.  Periodically, I’d walk out of the garage (doors were open) to check on them. During one of these checks, I saw her at the neighbors’ driveway where she is allowed to stop and turn around.  There was a minivan parked on the street and a lady getting into it.  My daughter is a very friendly, chatty soul.  If she sees someone near her, she’s going to say hello and chatter about whatever strikes her fancy.  I also, however, have no doubt that if someone she didn’t know tried to get her to go with them, she’d scream and kick and struggle LOUDLY.  I have no desire to quash her naturally friendly and open spirit.

The lady she was talking to was giving her a strange look.  I assumed my daughter was annoying her and called my girl to come back.  She did.  The lady then got in her van and pulled it up to my driveway.  She got out and waved me down.  When I approached, she said to me, “You know, your daughter doesn’t know me at all, and she just started talking to me.”  I replied, “Yes, she does that.  She likes to talk to people.”  She responded, “Well, you know, I run a home day care, and you really need to talk to her about speaking with strangers.  There is a really good video that John Walsh put out about teaching kids who it is ok to talk to — you really should get it and have your children watch it.  Because, you know, anything can happen, and they need to know not to talk to people they don’t know.  I could have been anyone.” Um, okay.  I was totally taken aback.  I thanked her and headed back up to the garage with my daughter.

After the lady left, I thought about it and realized I was offended.  While I know she thought she was only doing something nice — and, therefore, it wasn’t worth starting a fight over — it really was none of her business.  I didn’t want to get into a debate with her at the time, which is why I just thanked her and ended the conversation.  But what I really wanted to say was, “I understand you’ve bought into the media propaganda about the frequency of child abductions, but you really need to understand that crime is down significantly in this country.  And yet, you’re recommending I show my kids a video that might scare them into not speaking to people. For what it’s worth, you obviously weren’t someone intending to do my child harm.  In fact, the chance of her meeting such a person on our sidewalk in front of our house is less likely than her falling off her scooter and hitting her head.”

Probably wouldn’t have done any good, and she’d have driven away feeling even more self-righteously justified in having told me what she thought about my heathen parenting ways.

I’m not sure I handled the situation as best I could have, but then again, maybe just smiling and saying thank you without further engaging someone is best.  I just don’t know.  I would love to hear what your readers’ suggestions would be, regarding how to handle a situation like this.  I’ve found they often have great advice that is sound and based in logic, rather than emotional fearmongering. Thanks. — Heather

HELP NEEDED: How to Calm a Parent Who Fears Danger AND Blame?

Hi Readers! Here’s my situation: When I speak with parents who feel they really have to watch their kids ALL the time, often it’s not just because they fear  that otherwise “something terrible” could happen. It’s also  because they fear that IF something does, THEY will be blamed.

So even if parents are pretty sure their son, say, is ready to walk to school, or scooter on the sidewalk, or play basketball in the park with his friends, they still won’t let him do it, on the off-chance of that double whammy: Disaster + blame — blame they will heap on themselves and blame that others will happily heap, too.

My questions for you (since I hope you know I often rely on you for ideas and inspiration): Is there anything that has helped YOU get over that one-two punch? And is there anything that you have ever used that helped anyone ELSE get over those fears? Any psychological exercises or examples or just surprisingly effective arguments?

I find that my rational reassurances — “The odds are overwhelmingly in your favor!” — run straight into the wall of, “Yes, but it only takes ONE TIME.” Or, worse, “It only takes ONE SECOND…” (That “one second” thing kills me. It’s like EVERY SECOND is going to be their kid’s last.)

So I’d love to hear some more ideas of how to talk folks down from constant terror, because it sweeping the globe. (And as for WHY it is sweeping the globe, I’m not even getting into how mad I am at certain cable shows that have recently begged parents to, “Never take your eyes off your kids!” Because my seething goes without saying.)  — Lenore