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…

Bad News! Courts Are Rewarding “Intensive Parenting”

Hi Readers — This is so disturbing. Two professors studying family law have written a paper saying that “intensive parenting” is becoming the norm that judges expect good parents to practice. As Walter Olson explains on his blog, Overlawyered, “Gaia Bernstein (Seton Hall) and Zvi Triger (College of Management School of Law, Israel) say custody law rewards parents for greater involvement in their kids’ lives even if it amounts to over-involvement.”

And as the authors themselves say a bit more verbosely in the abstract of their paper (to be published in the U.C. Davis Law Review):

Today the child is king. Child rearing practices have changed significantly over the last two decades. Contemporary parents engage in Intensive Parenting. Parents devote their time to actively enriching the child, ensuring the child’s individual needs are addressed and he is able to reach his full potential. They also keep abreast of the newest child rearing knowledge and consistently monitor the child’s progress and whereabouts. Parents are expected to be cultivating, informed and monitoring. To satisfy these high standards, parents utilize a broad array of technological devices, such as the cellular phone and the Internet, making Intensive Parenting a socio-technological trend.

The professors go on to say that this is a trend that judges assume is healthy for the kids and hence indicative of good parenting. As if those of us who try to give our children a bit more freedom and responsibility are lagabouts who don’t love or care for our children as much. Ack. I’ve certainly heard THAT before.

I have nothing against parental involvement in their kids’ lives. I’d say I’m an involved parent myself. But when “MORE” involvement always equals “better,” that means the very BEST parents don’t let their kids do anything on their own! Having that type of  parenting lauded and legitimized in court is bad news for all of us, but especially for any Free-Rangers facing divorce. I’m very grateful to these law professors for noticing this trend and bringing it to light before it becomes set in stone. — Lenore

British Kids Being Mummy-fied

Hi Readers:  Just in case you were wondering what America may to start look like, in terms of helicoptering, check out this story from ahead-of-the-craziness-curve England. It notes:

The survey of 6,099 people commissioned by LV= Streetwise, a charity that educates children about safety, revealed that nearly a quarter of children aged 15 or under were not allowed to sleep at a friend’s house, 60 percent were forbidden to travel on public transport alone and 43 percent can’t go to the park without a parent or guardian.

It said more than 60 percent of mums and dads think the world is more dangerous than when they were kids.

…In contrast, just four percent of today’s adults say they were banned from sleeping-over when they were 15 or younger, only two percent were forbidden to use public transport, and the same number couldn’t go out on their own in familiar surroundings, such as their local town or park.

Got that? Just one generation ago, 98% of children were allowed to go, on their own, to the local park (not to mention the bus)!

All the more reason to get behind May 22’s “Take Our Children to the Park…And Leave Them There Day,” say I.  (Of course, I would.) Kids are being coddled, crippled and caged thanks to overblown parental fears. While most parents think the world has gone to hell in a handbasket filled with predators, kids today are actually SAFER than WE were when WE were kids — at least here in America. Crime is lower today than it was in the ’70s and ’80s (and not just because the kids are inside).

England is ahead of us when it comes to parental hysteria. It is time for us to declare our independence –again! And if you want to celebrate with a cookout and sparklers, go right ahead. (Just keep a fire extinguisher handy.) — Lenore

Don't Tread on Kids

Notes from An Overprotected Childhood

Hi Readers: This letter is from a woman whose mom was way more helicopter than most — an extreme case. Nonetheless, it’s a cautionary tale and she sent it here to endorse the Free-Range movement. Here’s wishing the writer, and her mom, a very happy and  liberating 2010. Lenore

Dear Free-Range Kids: I really wish that I had a free, happy childhood memory to share, but I don’t.  I grew up in the ’80s and my mother was obsessed with keeping my brother and me “safe.”  She was a total helicopter mom, even though that term wasn’t used then.  She watched us every second she possibly could.  I was never allowed to go over to any friends’ homes because their parents could be child molesters.  My mom didn’t like other children in her house, so they weren’t allowed to come to our house, either.  She was a bit more lenient with my brother because he’s a boy and I’m a girl, but not much.

My brother and I grew up confined to our back yard and had only each other as playmates.  Eventually, I stopped going outside completely, pretty well bored of the tiny yard.  I was a stereotypical fat kid.  My mom wouldn’t even let us go very often to play with our own cousins, thinking that they were too “rough.”  Every newspaper item regarding a child that had been abducted, raped, or murdered was thrust into our faces with the same phrase, “See?  Next time you want to complain, you should think about this kid!”

I love my mother very much, and she did teach me many things that I am forever grateful for, like the value of a dollar (I’m the only cousin in our family who has never had a problem with credit card debt) and how important reading is (she never denied me any book I ever wanted to read).  The lesson I could have done without?  That every person you meet will probably try to hurt you in some way.

I am now 26 years old and I have never had a real friend. I am very grateful that I am alive today and have never been seriously injured, but it sure seems like there was an awfully high price to pay in order to guard against something that seems so unlikely to me now that I am older.  I can’t completely escape her influence, and I may never be able to.  I hope that this website can reach many parents and show them how to let their kids have more freedom.  I’ve never had a serious physical injury, but I’ve had all kinds of emotional illnesses.  I think I would rather have had a few more bumps and bruises. They heal a lot quicker.