I watched yesterday’s episode of “Dr Phil” this afternoon. It featured varying parenting styles, from a mother portrayed as excessively permissive to a mother deemed a “helicopter parent” because of her hovering.
The “excessively permissive” mother got that designation because she allowed her son to ride the New York City subway by himself when he was nine years old. She’s also gotten blasted throughout the blogosphere as the World’s Worst Mother because of it. But here’s my take on it. This kid lives in New York City. He’s grown up there. He’s spent his entire life there. To him, navigating the subway is like suburban kids riding their bikes to their friends’ houses. It’s not really that big of a deal. It is to us, we non-denizens of the city, because we ourselves would never dream of tackling the subway in New York as grown adults.
I can remember watching “Diff’rent Strokes” as a kid and being amazed that someone would live in a New York City apartment that was two different levels! Stairs!! In an apartment!! It just boggled the mind of this suburban kid whose only experience with NYC came from shows like “Sesame Street” and “The Cosby Show.”
New York City is completely and utterly unique, is my point. And people that grow up there have different experiences from the rest of the country for that very reason.
Maybe I wouldn’t allow a nine-year-old to navigate the subways, but certainly a teen. It would have to depend on the nine-year-old, as well.
You know, parents nowadays are encouraged to be over-protective. Everything is dangerous; everything is scary. Where is your kid? What is he doing? Who are his friends? Where are they?!
I’m not saying you shouldn’t know where your kids are, and what they’re doing, and what kind of friends they associate with. As a parent, that’s your job. But you can let your kids breathe a little bit, explore something new, do something that is maybe a little out of the box.
I’m so not a “helicopter parent.” That’s someone who hovers over his child for fear something is going to happen to him. As I write this, Grace is in her room at the other end of my (small) house, with the door shut, playing happily. I have no idea what she’s playing with, and every so often I can hear a loud thud. My initial reaction is, “OH MY GOD, she’s knocked over the heavy changing table and she’s pinned underneath and now she’s going to die from blunt force trauma!” but then I realize that’s just crazy talk. For one thing, I can still hear her giggling and talking to herself. If she were pinned, she’d be hollering. I also allow Grace to play out back by herself. We have a fenced-in yard, and the only things out there are her toys. She can’t wander off either.
I don’t see the payoff in being a helicopter parent either. What makes people want to monitor their kids so closely that the poor child can’t even sigh without getting advance permission? What happened to letting the kid explore a little bit and try spreading his wings in an age-appropriate fashion?
For example, we have a playground across the street. I can’t see the whole thing from my house, but I can see bits of it. It is maybe a hundred feet from my house. I told Kurt that I would probably allow Grace to go over there by herself (or with friends) if she were six. He felt that was reasonable and agreed. She would be told that she could not leave the playground unless she were coming home.
Kids are usually very good at following rules. I remember when I was a kid that I could only go to Mr Wood’s white station wagon on my bike. And I tell you what, I never went past that station wagon, not without permission! Kurt told me that as a child, he was given certain streets he could ride his bike down, but he had to stay within a certain distance of his house. And he did exactly that.
Kids of our generation were thrown out of the house right after breakfast and told not to come home till the street lights came on. We found things to do all day to keep us out of our parents’ hair. I know I spent an entire summer when I was ten years old at a playground a block away from my house. It wasn’t in sight of the house, and it was almost a ten-minute walk to get there, though I always rode my bike. And there was a little wooded area that I would wander around in, never thinking about what could happen if I were careless and if the wrong kind of person followed me down there.
Kurt’s mother would take all three boys down to the neighborhood pool and drop them off after breakfast every morning, only to retrieve them come dinner time. And this was before every mother slathered her children in sunscreen before a stray sunbeam could contaminate her children’s porcelain skin!
Did I mention Kurt grew up in Tucson, Arizona???
Here in housing there are a few children that wander the neighborhood without a whole lot of supervision. I saw two boys today zooming around on bicycles, making laps around the loop that is my street. The sad part, though, is it is obvious that they are foreigners, their father(s) being stationed at the War College here. It’s not so much their skin color or that they speak in another language that gives them away, but rather the lack of supervision and their ability to roam the streets of military housing of their own free will. Children in other countries have far more free rein, while American children are kept close to their mothers’ skirts.
I’m not saying it’s not a good idea to be careful. I’m just saying that some parents nowadays can be overly cautious, and it breeds children who don’t know what to do with themselves. They can’t entertain themselves, they are lost without Mommy holding their hands, and they cannot do anything without asking how it’s supposed to be done. Mommy has always taken care of it before; why should they be reliant upon their own brainpower to get them out of a jam?
And these are our leaders of tomorrow!!!