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…

Go Easy on the Anti-Microbial Soap, Says New Study

Hi Readers! I know, I know — there are probably another zillion studies that contradict this one, and there’s a danger in being whipsawed by every new “discovery” but as this one SO dovetails with the Free-Range outlook, who could resist? Voila:

THINK AGAIN ABUOT KEEPING THE LITTLE ONES SO SQUEAKY CLEAN

RESEARCH SUGGESTS THAT EVERYDAY GERMS MAY PREVENT DISEASES IN ADULTHOOD

Yes, so reads the headline on a study just released by Northwestern University that suggests that raising kids in too antiseptic an environment could lead to heart trouble (of all things!) down the way.

The problem seems to be that when the body isn’t exposed to the usual pu-pu platter of pathogens at a young age, the inflammatory system doesn’t develop quite right.

“Contrary to assumptions related to earlier studies, our research suggests that ultra-clean, ultra-hygienic environments early in life may contribute to higher levels of inflammation as an adult, which in turn increases risks for a wide range of diseases,” said Thomas McDade, lead author of the study, associate professor of anthropology in Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and a faculty fellow at the Institute for Policy Research.

Relatively speaking, humans only recently have lived in such hyper-hygienic environments, he stressed.

The research suggests that inflammatory systems may need a higher level of exposure to common everyday bacteria and microbes to guide their development. “In other words, inflammatory networks may need the same type of microbial exposures early in life that have been part of the human environment for all of our evolutionary history to function optimally in adulthood,” said McDade, also a member of Northwestern’s Cells to Society (C2S).

This is so interesting not only in terms of chucking the Purell, but also because it is the perfect metaphor for all the other interventions we’ve been sold on — products and programs to “help” our children do what they’ve been doing for millions of years without ’em. Things like baby knee-pads to “help” them crawl. Educational placemats to “help” them get interested in words.  Marionette-like harnesses to “help” them learn to walk. What the whole baby-industrial complex ignores is that evolution has seen to it that our children come pre-equipped for the world.  So they don’t need baby knee pads — they have baby fat on their knees. They don’t need flash cards at birth — they come pre-programmed to find the world stimulating. Moreover, if we pad and pamper them through every normal stage of development, when do they develop normally? They don’t!

As this study notes:

“In the U.S we have this idea that we need to protect infants and children from microbes and pathogens at all possible costs,” McDade concluded.

“But we may be depriving developing immune networks of important environmental input needed to guide their function throughout childhood and into adulthood. Without this input, our research suggests, inflammation may be more likely to be poorly regulated and result in inflammatory responses that are overblown or more difficult to turn off once things get started.”

The same goes for an overprotected childhood: Keep our kids away from real life and don’t be surprised if they can’t deal with it later on.

And I say all this  not just because Purell always grossed me out. — Lenore