Leave your kids alone: a free-range parenting journey

Writing in Boston Magazine, Katherine Ozment recounts how she went from hovering over her kids to keep them from harm to adopting a hands-off regime that let them take risks and play on their own. I had dinner last night with my writing-collaborator Benjamin Rosenbaum and he said he saw his duty as a parent as "preventing damage," not "preventing pain" — pain (emotional and physical) teaches us a lot, and parents need to allow some measure of it in their kids' lives to help them learn important lessons, but a parent also should intervene to prevent pain from giving rise to damage. Knowing the difference is tricky — of course.

My heart sank. How times had changed. I still remember the time my two older brothers built an igloo in our front yard. It had a domed roof and arched entrance, and they strung an overhead work lamp from the ceiling and laid out a small rug so we could all sit in it for hours. Witnessing my children's paltry fort-making skills, I thought, Is this what our kids will remember of winter — digging little holes in the snow as their mother hovered nearby? Where has the childhood I once knew gone?

In my nine years as a parent, I've followed the rules, protocols, and cultural cues that have promised to churn out well-rounded, happy, successful children. I've psychoanalyzed my kids' behavior, supervised an avalanche of activities, and photo-documented their day-to-day existence as if I were a wildlife photographer on the Serengeti. I do my utmost to develop their minds and build up their confidence, while at the same time living with the constant low-level fear that bad things will happen to them. But lately, I've begun to wonder if, by becoming so attuned to their every need and so controlling of their every move, I've somehow played a small part in changing the very nature of their childhood.

I know that if I continue on this path, not only will my kids never have the wherewithal to build an igloo after a snowstorm, they won't even have the freedom or imagination to try. Watching them play halfheartedly in their meager little forts, I knew I had to change.

Welcome to the Age of Overparenting

(via Free Range Kids)

(Image: My Snow Fort, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from kmonojo's photostream)