As the years go by, I have seen very bright kids struggle with life and average intelligence kids thrive. I often think about how parents could help their kids grow into independent adults or hinder that growth by trying to be a good parent. Good intentions aren’t always the best way to do things, and sometimes the best parents sit back and let kids figure it out themselves. In the end, our goal as parents is to have our kids grow up with responsibility and resiliency so they can leave our home. Our desire to keep kids safe can seem to conflict with the need to let them grow up.
Is it safe?
So often parents attempt to keep their kids safe in the moment, but don’t consider what long the term implications are.
Parents want to keep their kids safe under their wings, at home or in a supervised activity. If their child is not directly in sight, they are at least within reach of a cell phone for immediate access.
Cell phone for “safety”
I often hear that parents buy a phone for their kids “for safety” purposes, but studies are showing the opposite. Cell phones lead to many dangerous situations for young kids and tweens. Smartphone use is associated with anxiety, depression, poor sleep, and more.
Bullying has always been a problem, but now it is more widespread. Kids can’t even escape in their own home due to social media.
Screen time takes away from playing outside, which contributes to obesity.
Smartphones also decrease the time spent interacting with people in real life and getting tasks accomplished. When kids spend excessive time communicating with their friends through apps, they miss out on real interactions that can help develop important social skills. Although it’s not a diagnosis yet, screen behaviors seem to be very addictive. Limiting time can become difficult when kids always carry a device.
Screens interfere with sleep. Sleep is critical to a growing brain and body, so sleep deprivation leads to many problems.
Inappropriate material is easily accessible online. Kids learn how to starve themselves and get encouragement for unhealthy behaviors. They share challenges that are very dangerous. Pornography and sex trafficking are huge issues.
Look into the Wait Until 8th movement for reasons to wait until 8th grade to give your child a smartphone. Gain support from other parents when your child says they’re the “only one” without one. Even teens recognize the problem.
Being out and about
If you never let your child visit a friend’s home or play outside, they will learn to be afraid outside their own home.
Many parents are afraid to let their kids walk to school. Realistically it’s a low risk that their child will become abducted, but a very real risk that the loss of exercise will impact their long-term health.
It’s rare in many neighborhoods to see kids outside playing. Some may be inside unable to go out because parents aren’t home. Others prefer to play video games. There are many at structured after school activities, which don’t allow for child-driven play and problem solving. If other kids aren’t out playing, the incentive for your kids isn’t there to go outside. It isn’t as fun to play alone. Talk to your neighbors to find times that their kids will be home and encourage outdoor fun at that time. This helps to build your neighborhood into a community!
Dr. Peter Gray shows how the decline of free play is directly correlated with dramatically increasing rates of anxiety, depression, suicide, and narcissism in children and adolescents. He discusses why free play is essential for children’s healthy social and emotional development. He also offers suggestions of how we can make this happen while keeping our kids safe. Take 15 minutes to watch it.
As Dr. Gray mentions, it’s the free play that seems to be important to help our kids develop resiliency.
Our kids consider sports their “play” time, but sports are directed by adults. Kids don’t learn what they need to learn about creativity, self motivation, problem solving, and all the other skills learned by kid-directed and kid-initiated play.
An article that I read years ago still resonates with me. The Overprotected Kid shows how parents try so hard to keep their kids safe that we sometimes prevent them from learning about real life.
The article is based on allowing kids to roam and play with things that haven’t been engineered to keep them safe. In our litigious society, that seems excessively dangerous to some. There are even stories of parents being turned into authorities for allowing their kids unsupervised time outside or even taking public transportation to school.
In my opinion, too many parents worry that kids aren’t safe when unsupervised. They forget what dangers lurk in too much supervision.
Where’s the right balance?
Building Snowmen from Snowflakes
Dr. Tim Elmore is a recognized speaker and author who focuses on building the next generation. Here’s an excerpt from his post, How to Build Snowmen from a Snowflake Generation:
Too often, our young give up due to “learned helplessness.” This happens, however, in both a surprising and sinister fashion. It’s all about control. Studies reveal that when the activities in their day are controlled by adults (and hence, not in their control), both their angst and hopelessness rise. The more we govern and prescribe the agenda, the less they feel hopeful and the more they feel helpless.
Further, learned helplessness promotes irresponsibility. Kids feel little responsibility to work because it’s “not up to them.” I believe most middle class students assume that if they make a mistake, some adult will swoop in and rescue them. While this may feel good, it hinders development. Feeling that outcomes are in their control gives them a greater sense of hope and ownership.
Established generations must slowly encourage and even insist on giving them control of the “agenda.” This is the only way to build ownership, engagement and responsibility. It requires trust and flexibility, since young people may not perform to our standards. We must decide what we want most: perfection or growth.
He goes on to say:
What message do you suppose it sends a student when the adults in his life continue to swoop in and save him whenever something goes wrong? While it may feel good at first, it communicates: “We don’t think you have it in you to solve this problem. You need an adult to help you.” Consequently, these young people don’t feel like adults themselves until somewhere between ages 26-29. They can remain on their parents’ insurance policy until age 26. In one survey, young adults reported they believe adult-life begins with “having their first child.” Today, this doesn’t happen until long after 18 years old. So while we give them the right to vote, they may have no concept of reality. Rights without responsibilities creates virtual adults and often, spoiled brats.
Did you know that success is not determined by intelligence? Our mindset, grit, and resilience are more predictive of success.
The good news is that we can all learn to have a growth mindset, which is a great start to becoming resilient. See my sister blog for more information on How to Get a Growth Mindset.