As a parent, you might think it’s not possible to "over" parent. When our precious, miraculous first child is born we often feel like it is our duty and privilege to do everything in our power to make that child happy and healthy.
Fast forward a few years and some of us are running around in a frenzy, driving kids to countless playdates and ballet lessons and sporting events-- and maybe even driving them to the schoolbus stop instead of letting them walk the two blocks. It likely wouldn't occur to us that we were doing too much for them; in fact, many parents feel they aren’t ever doing enough.
We want to keep our kids close, because we love them and we’re afraid of anything bad happening to them. It’s only natural. Signing them up in countless after-school activities and planned playdates might keep them "safe," but giving them lots of time to roam and explore outdoors and have unstructured playtime can do wonders for building self-esteem and helping them learn to be independent.
The older generation often laments “the good only days” when kids as young as seven or eight roamed free in their neighbourhoods, going out to play in the morning and not coming back until dark. They climbed trees, built rafts and floated on the river, skated on frozen ponds, rode their bikes down hills at breakneck speeds. Some of these activities would give a modern-day parent cause for concern. Yet somehow, miraculously, the vast majority of these wild and free children survived. There were accidents, of course, as there are today as well. But not so many to validate our fear of our kids “free ranging” away from the house.
Today’s parents are also afraid of crime, worrying their child might be kidnapped or hurt by strangers, but actually we can rest easy, because statistics say the danger of these types of crimes is lower than it used to be. For example, according to Statistics Canada, violent crime in Canada in 2013 was lower than it had been in 1969.
It’s true that very young children, like infants and toddlers, of course need our constant care and supervision. They don’t have the ability to make rational decisions or protect themselves from danger, because their brains haven’t developed yet. They are at our mercy and depend on us to make all their decisions for them.
But for older children, there is strong evidence to suggest that giving them some freedom, rather than “helicopter parenting” (hovering too close), could really benefit them in the long run.
So what’s the answer? If you are an anxious parent, you won't feel comfortable letting your nine-year-old go off to play outside for six hours alone. In all likelihood, your child might be fine, but you might be a nervous wreck. Baby steps might be the way to go. Perhaps you could let your daughter ride her bike all the way around the block instead or just to the end of the street.
By allowing your children to explore and learn on their own in these gentle ways, slowly but surely you will gain confidence in their ability to survive in the world without you. In turn, you will be giving your kids the gift of learning from their mistakes and feeling the joy that comes from making good decisions.