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The way we raise children today might do more harm than good

Published by Business Insider on Sun, 23 Jul 2017


When many middle-aged people think back to their childhood, they remember roaming the streets with their friends during long, hot summers.Our parents threw us out the door in the morning and instructed us not to come back until dinnertime.Often in charge of younger siblings, we strayed further than we should have, got into trouble and, by the end of the summer, had a collection of triumphs, scars and memories for life.But surely such memories are just nostalgia' The bit about the sun always shining probably is.Yet one thing is certainthe level of parental involvement and supervision in the 1970s was not a tenth of what is expected today. Fast forward to 2014 anda woman was arrestedfor allowing her nine-year-old to play in the park while she worked.So what impact do increasing levels of parental involvement have on children' Lets take a look at the evidence.Arecent surveyof children aged eight to 12 found that indoor play is now the norm, a third have never splashed in a puddle and the distance children are allowed to play from home has shrunk by 90% since 1970.Parenting hasnt only changed in terms of what is considered safe for children. Parents nowworry moreabout the impact of their parenting on their children, feeling pressured to provide astream of stimulating activitiesin a way that would have once seemed absurd.This has led to the emergence of two types of related parenting styles:the helicopter and the lawnmower."Helicopter parents, as the name suggests, spend a lot of time hovering. They always stay close to their children, ready to swoop in and direct, help or protect (usually before it is needed).Lawnmower parents are one step ahead of their children, smoothing their path and making sure nothing gets in their way. Common tactics of both includeinterfering significantlywith their grown-up childrens lives, such as complaining to employers when their children dont get a job.But does enabling a childhood free from stress really help them in the long term' And what happens when children never have to get themselves out of tricky situations'Not rocket scienceAs with anything, there is a middle ground. It doesnt take a rocket scientist to realise that providing children with opportunities and supporthelps them to gain experiences, confidence, and networksthat they wouldnt be offered in more adverse settings. But there is an important line between supporting children and wrapping them in gold-plated cotton wool.Allowing children freedom to take appropriate risks through outdoor play is essential for their development. Risky play does not mean placing children in grave danger, but instead allowing them to be children climbing, jumping from heights, and hanging upside down are good examples. Risky play allows children totest limits and solve problems. And, yes, this includes learning what happens when they overstretch themselves and fall.But what about the abduction risk' Wont children who are allowed outside unsupervised be kidnapped'Highly unlikely. Despite headlines suggesting otherwise, the risk of child abductionhas not increasedfrom approximately a 0.0005% chance since data was first collected in the 1970s. And children are actually far more likely to be abducted by someone they know (even a parent) than the feared stranger lurking in the shadows.Aside from risk, constantly intervening and providing opportunities for children is not good for their development. We may have forgotten it in our hot, hazy memories,but it is normaland beneficial for children to be bored. Boredom enhances creativity and problem solving, whereas constant inputdulls imagination even if that includes creative classes.Continually hovering and doing things for children may also backfire. Children whose parents frequently intervene are more likely toexperience anxiety. Although the link is not necessarily causal, being constantly rescued is likely to reduce your confidence. Meanwhile, when children play alone they meet challenges and learn to solve problems, honing their creativity skills in the process.These early interactions may also have long-term consequences. Research with college students has found that the higher the degree of parental helicoptering, thegreater the riskof student depression and anxiety. On the flip side, those students who are used to their parents enabling everything, are more likely todisplay traits of narcissism and entitlement. Anxiety is not good, but neither is overconfidence and an expectation that life should be easy.Having said all of that, parental involvement,particularly from warm, loving-but-firm parents, is of course beneficial. While having confidence in their own abilities may contribute to a childs sense of security, so will having supportive parents. And lets not forget that although abductions may not have risen, the amount of traffic has, and freedom and risks need to be appropriate.Striking the right balance may seem more complicated than it has to be. Over 50 years ago, paediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Woods Winnicott introduced the concept ofgood enough parenting."He showed that parents who were loving and provided a stimulating environmentbut also set boundaries and didntstressabout doing enoughhad children with the best outcomes.Perhaps Winnicott was blinded by nostalgia thinking back to long, hot summers. But many experts today still believe its a strategy that makes a lot of sense for raising secure and independent children.SEE ALSO:9 mistakes parents make that can hurt their kidsJoin the conversation about this storyNOW WATCH: A psychologist debunks the claim that fidget spinners help kids focus
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