January 22, 2010

The Movement against "Over-Parenting"

 “The insurgency goes by many names — slow parenting, simplicity parenting, free-range parenting — but the message is the same: Less is more; hovering is dangerous; failure is fruitful. You really want your children to succeed? Learn when to leave them alone. When you lighten up, they'll fly higher. We're often the ones who hold them down.”
-Nancy Gibbs, “The Case Against Over-Parenting,” Time Magazine, November 30, 2009

I couldn’t resist picking up the Time magazine with the cover showing a kid with puppet strings and the title  “The Case Against Over-Parenting.”  I knew this was something I needed to read.  I had never heard the term “Over-Parenting” before, but I knew right away what it was, because I often find myself saying and doing things for my kids that I KNOW are too much. 

Click to read the article: “The Case Against Over-Parenting” by Nancy Gibbs.

The article led me to start my research on this new “insurgency.”  I started with Lenore Skenazy’s book Free-Range Kids:  Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry.   I had many “ah ha” moments reading Skenazy’s book. 
Although she herself wrote a parenting book, hers is not one that prescribes a “correct” way to parent.  In fact, Skenazy advises us not to read parenting books but instead consult with experienced, trusted family members and friends, just like people did before there was an entire parenting section in Barnes and Noble.  This resonated with me.

Skenazy points out some interesting statistics and facts about parental fear, changed perceptions of what kids are able to do, and tips for breaking free of some of the current  “over-parenting” (aka “helicopter”)  trends. Skenazy addresses parents’ worst fears, including that our child might be abducted and/or murdered.  She points out that, despite what we all think, statistically speaking “there is no need to feel that times now are less safe” than when we grew up in the seventies and eighties.

So why do we keep telling each other, “it’s just not like when we were kids?”   Skenazy thinks that many things have contributed to the change in how parents view supervision of their children, but that the graphic, violent TV shows (a la “Law and Order” and “CSI”) we’ve been exposed to (which would not have even been allowed on TV when we were kids) have contributed to the problem.   They’ve filled our heads with images of unspeakable horrors, and, although we know they are fictional, our imaginations can quickly jump to these horrors happening to our own children. 

One afternoon when my daughter Charlotte was seven years old,  I was waiting at the bus stop for her to get back from school.   When she didn’t get off the bus, I asked the other kids where she was.  They hadn’t seen her.  My mind quickly went to where many mom’s minds go when they think they’ve lost their child, “Someone has grabbed my beautiful, 62 pound girl and taken her away.”  I panicked, called the school, drove to school, and waited while the office staff tracked Charlotte down on another bus.

Charlotte had missed her bus and gotten on another bus and asked the bus driver to drop her at home.  If, like in my childhood, I had been waiting at home for Charlotte, I would never have even known that she wasn’t on her regular bus. She would have gotten herself home just fine.  Reading Skenazy’s book opened my eyes to the fact that stranger abduction is extremely rare, and that it is NOT what we should be worried about.  We should be teaching our kids to act confident, be safe, and be discerning about people.   Then we should worry about the real dangers for kids, which are getting in a car accidents and drowning in a backyard pools, and take necessary safety precautions. 

There were many nuggets of wisdom in Skenazy’s book.  Here’s one that, as a camp director and believer in the value of getting kids outside,  stood out to me:

“Childhood is supposed to be about discovering the world, not being held captive.  It’s not about having the world pointed out to you by a DVD or video game or by your mom as you drive by. “See, honey?  That’s called a ‘forest.” Can you spell forest?”


  1. Good stuff Audrey! Thanks for sharing. Karen.

  2. This is a very insightful post. I am surprised by how difficult it is for me to let my daughter have some freedom. I first noticed it when I would take her to the park and try to diffuse an argument between her and a friend. Back in the day, kids had to figure it out themselves. It has been hard trying to step back and let her straighten things out for herself. Sometimes I still speak up, but less and less. This article has given me more to reflect on. :)