“Every child needs to feel safe to thrive, but sometimes they also need to be brave.”

-Griffin Longley

The Current State of Parenting: Improving Childhood or Strangling It?

let kids take risksOver the past two generations, there has been a drastic change in parenting philosophies. Whereas children during the majority of modern society were given the freedom to go outside and play unsupervised by parents, today’s children have fallen victim to the helicopter hovering and monitoring of parents at all times. The most common reason for this shift is in the name of safety. With constant supervision, children are less likely to hurt themselves physically and emotionally.

However, overprotective parenting can cause many unforeseen consequences. Multiple studies have shown that children who are not given the unstructured, unsupervised play their parents were accustomed to:

  • Have lower self esteem
  • Are at higher risk of obesity
  • Have poorer problem-solving skills
  • Are less likely to take positive, healthy risks in the future

This is not to say that the absence of parenting is the answer, but letting your child take small risks will help them grow into confident, capable people.

“Why the Change?”

Figuring out why parenting philosophies and practices have changed is difficult because it results from a myriad of societal changes over the last few decades. Here are just a few:

Our Reliance on Technology for Information and Entertainment

As screens become more and more a part of our culture, the way we communicate with one another and entertain ourselves changes. While technology allows us to learn and play without ever leaving the house, two major opportunities are lost by this static state:

  • Children have less opportunity to use their imaginations with formulaic games on electronic devices.
  • Less hands-on experience occurs in the electronic world than in the physical world, so they are not gaining practical life lessons.

By limiting screen time, children spend more time with family and friends and are more likely to develop verbal and literacy skills. One way to encourage these habits is through leading by example. Put away your own mobile device when you’re with family and children are more likely to imitate your behavior. In addition, when you are communicating with your child, talk and listen to them face to face. Don’t let a screen get between the two of you!

The Role of Parents and Semantics

The perceived role of parenthood has drastically changed since the 1950s. Think of the difference between “housewife” and “stay at home mom or dad.” While one implies a vocation around maintaining the living space, the other implies a vocation around raising a child. Housewives were meant to care for the home first, giving their children more independent playing opportunities. A stay at home mom or dad is expected to constantly interact with the child, which may stifle their independence.

This is not to say we should go back to 1950s America. Instead, remember that by allowing your child to play unsupervised they are gaining more confidence in their actions and decisions. In addition, keeping spaces clean and organized in order to live a practical life sets a great example to your kids.

More Time Constraints on Families

The average middle class parent is expected to work harder and longer than they used to be. This shift has caused an increase in secondary child care, where the non-parent can be held liable for a child and less likely to let them take risks. Therefore, if you rely on a child care center or nanny, choose one that encourages children to learn and explore on their own and incorporates unstructured playtime (otherwise known as “recess”) into the daily routine.

In addition, less family time can make a parent feel like they should be spending every waking moment with their child. Remember that although family time is important, you should also give your child the chance to explore the world on their own or with their peers. While infants and toddlers may need more help, children in the preschool or kindergarten stage are more capable than you may think.

Our Changing Opinions of Our Communities

Even parents who live in relatively safe communities fear their children playing outside out of sight. According to a Vic Health Survey, 48% of parents think there is a high risk a child will be abducted if allowed to walk around their neighborhood alone.

There’s a difference between preparing your child and scaring them. Not allowing them to explore the outside world will convince children that the anywhere other than there home is a frightening place and could paralyze them in the future. By setting different limits (such as which streets/parks they are allowed to go to) and teaching them how to stay safe when they are on their own, children are more likely to make good decisions and trust in their abilities.

Perceived Risk vs. Actual Risk

The media would have you believe that the top causes of death for children are falling and abduction. These perceived risks completely change how we treat and raise our children. However, the top causes of death for children are cancer, car collisions, and drowning. If we were to accommodate for these risks we would never let our children near a car. Instead, we take these risks every day because the opportunity (getting somewhere quickly) outweighs the threat (crashing the car).

We need to stop treating unsupervised play as a threat. In reality, the opportunity of playing creatively and independently outweighs the threat of falling off a bike. Even if you child breaks an arm, they’re likely to behave more responsibly in the future.

Why Things Should Change

Safety is not the only goal of childhood. Children should also be:

  • Loved and understood
  • Creative
  • Capable
  • Confident

Positive, healthy risk taking encourages these other aspects of childhood. It’s no surprise that the children who are risk takers will become the adults who change the world.