There’s a litany of things on which parents are judged today.
From letting kids drink soda at restaurants to offering sugary cupcakes at birthday parties instead of organic veggies and dip to giving your child a unique name (Remember Apple?).
But judgement crosses a few boundaries when a tinge of neglect is suspected, Swapna Venugopal Ramaswamy writes for lohud.com.
In August, a mother was visited by police after she allowed her 8-year-old daughter to walk the family’s dog around the block.
Yes, the fear of vigilantes (I mean concerned strangers and neighbors) is real.
After all, there is no rational explanation for parents to be this paranoid. In fact, serious crime levels in the U.S. have steadily been going down.
A 2015 study by Brennan Center for Justice on crime concluded that “the average person in a large urban area is safer walking down the street today than he or she would have been at almost any time in the past 30 years.”
So it must come as a relief to Utah parents as the state became the first in the nation in May to pass a law making it legal to practice “free-range parenting.” You know, the concept of raising children to be independent and self-reliant without being a helicopter parent.
When Lenore Skenazy wrote about letting her then 9-year-old son ride the New York City subway by himself in 2008, it was just fodder for her column for the New York Sun.
Skenazy had no idea she was about to launch the so-called “free-range kids” movement. Two days after the publication of the column, she found herself discussing — and defending — her decision to allow her son a taste of independence on several TV shows.
She’s spent the last decade promoting the concept through her blog, a book and lectures (including at DreamWorks and Sydney Opera House). In 2012, she even hosted a short-lived TV show, “World’s Worst Mom.” on Discovery Life, aimed at loosening the grip of paranoid parents from their kids.
Skenazy now serves as president of Let Grow — a nonprofit that seeks to enlist parents, schools and towns in raising independent kids and countering the culture of over-protection. The free program has been adopted by close to a dozen schools on Long Island, New York City and Wilton, Connecticut.
Schools adopt ‘free-range’ program
With the Let Grow project, teachers tell their students to go home and do one thing they feel ready to do on their own — with their parents’ permission.
Michael Hynes, superintendent of the Patchogue-Medford School District on Long Island, said the district had incorporated the Let Grow initiative in all the district’s seven elementary schools and would be rolling it out in the three middle schools this fall.
“We tell kids what to do 24/7. We’ve bubble-wrapped our kids to the point where they don’t take risks, they are extremely anxious,” said Hynes. “This program is a very simple way to empower kids to have some control over their lives.”
Hynes said the program has been integrated into homework so that one day a week students at different grade levels are trying something they’ve never tried before, from cooking a meal, to going to a place by themselves to riding their bikes for half mile to a mile.
“It’s not just for the children, it’s really for the adults, who for lack of a better word, often smother their kids.” “Back in the day, 30 years ago, 12-year-olds were doing things that now we wouldn’t think of allowing current 12-year-olds to do. “
The byproduct of thinking we are living in unsafe times, Hynes said, is that kids are more depressed, suicidal and anxious than ever before.
His message to fellow superintendents:
“As much as we are so hyper-focused on standardized test scores and academics, we really need to start moving the needle on mental health and what’s in the best interest of kids. One of the easiest ways to do that is have them involved in the Let Grow program, and we shouldn’t be hearing that we can’t afford it as an excuse because it is free.”
Swapna Venugopal Ramaswamy is the new audience strategist and a member of the Editorial Board for The Journal News/lohud, part of the USA TODAY NETWORK.