Sometime the universe starts pointing a certain direction and you can’t help but notice. First, I answered a Mouthy Housewife question about giving a 12-year-old more freedom. Then a friend sent me an article from The Atlantic about The Overprotected Kid.
And then there is my own 9 1/2 year-old. A year ago, she wrote a list of things she wanted from mom and dad and wrote “freedom.” Yes, a smoothie came first but let’s remember just how delicious a smoothie is. She got the smoothie. She still wants more freedom.
For many of the parents I talk to, there is a desire to give kids more freedom but there is also the terrifying fear of not wanting anything awful to happen to them. A generation ago, parents also did not want anything terrible to happen to their kids but they felt safer. Why? Probably because media wasn’t constantly in their lives.
My kids and your kids are just as safe in the world. Yup. It’s true. U.S. violent crime rates have dropped almost 50% since they reached a high in 1992. A child who gets abducted is still a very rare occurrence.
But somehow it just doesn’t feel that way. We think, “What if I was the parent of 6-year-old Etan Patz?” In 1979, Etan disappeared in NYC while walking alone to the school bus. And the constant media barrage of high profile abductions (kids we feel like we truly know like Madeleine McCann) makes us feel like our kids are in grave danger.
They just aren’t. So don’t we need to give our kids a little bit more freedom to play, to experiment and to skin their knees so they will have the necessary skills to succeed in this world? Do any of us gain confidence by someone hovering over us and telling us what to do constantly? No. I gain confidence by trying things out until I succeed.
So where is the balance between watching our children at all times and letting go just a little bit so they can thrive? There must be a middle ground. I have been thinking about how do give my 9-year-old more freedom without having a complete panic attack myself.
I recently offered to let her and her 7-year-old sister go the library portion of our art museum to pick out books (with their own library cards) while I stayed with my younger children in a kids play area. The 7-year-old wanted none of this alone time but the 9-year-old loved the idea.
I’ve let the two of them go into our UPS store and ship a package for me. I’ve let them walk down the street and bring back younger kids from the neighborhood to play in our yard.
I let them play in the backyard while I’m upstairs and paying no attention. Have you noticed the creativity that ensues when kids don’t feel watched? My girls (7 and 9) and our neighbors (9 and 12) climbed a tree and hung a rope swing while I was upstairs changing Cash’s diaper and helping the twins with something. For real.
I guess any one of them could have fallen from the tree. But I can’t keep my children in a golden lockbox and then release them at 18 and expect them to soar.
I don’t think there is any perfect age to let your child do certain things on their own. Because every child is so different. One kid might be ready to walk home from the school bus stop alone at age 7. Another child might need another year.
And it also depends on where you live. Certainly some neighborhoods are safer than others. But I think we do have to be aware that sometimes our “perception of danger” is really just a perception and not the true reality.
And maybe as a mom you enjoy picking your kid up at the bus stop and that’s great too. That might be a special time together. So you’ll enjoy meeting your child each day and giving him or her other freedoms.
I guess what I’m proposing is that maybe we can’t hold on so tightly. I’ve felt judged for being “overprotective” and as a mom, I’m certainly a work in progress. I’m sure by the time my 5th is a tween, I’ll be letting him drive the minivan. You know, as long as he’s careful.
I don’t think I’m overprotective but I’m not laid back about their safety either. I know in high crowd situations, I keep my kids very close. At our pool club or in our neighborhood, I feel more relaxed. I take one situation at a time.
When I recently took all 5 of my kids to the art museum, I realized I had left the sweatshirts in the car – a necessity in the arctic inside temperature. I asked my daughter Dylan if she wanted to go get them for me. She was elated with the responsibility. Yes, I watched from the lobby as she carefully made her way through the parking lot to the car and retrieved the sweatshirts.
I didn’t feel panicked. I didn’t feel stressed. I felt proud. And so was she.