December 3, 2011

“I don’t even let my kids out of the house”

Welcome to the Age of Overparenting How I learned to let my kids be kids.

IN THE ARLINGTON middle school cafeteria, Michael Thompson asks if anyone wants to share their sweetest memory from childhood. I raise my hand and tell the group how, when I was eight, my friends and I discovered a frozen pond way back in the woods. We raced home to get our ice skates and laced them up in the hollowed-out trunk of a towering tree. And then, accompanied only by the sounds of our voices, laughter, and the scratching of our blades, we skimmed the ice, unsupervised, for hours.

“Why,” Thompson asks me in front of all the parents, “is that memory so sweet?”

Without thinking, I say, “Because my parents didn’t know where I was.”  “

Your parents didn’t know where you were. So that experience was wholly your own,” he says.

Then: “Would you let your own children do that?”

“I don’t even let my kids out of the house,” I blurt.

Everyone laughs, including me. (I do let them out of the house, by the way.) It’s a funny line, but the truth is our kids have but a shred of the freedom we enjoyed growing up.

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what calling up my sweetest memory made me realize is that while today’s middle- and upper-middle-class children have an unprecedented array of opportunities, their experiences are often manufactured by us. For them, ice skating takes the form of 30-minute lessons at a city rink. Playing with friends involves checking calendars and pre-set finish times. Nearly everything they do is orchestrated, if not by their parents, then by some other adult — a teacher, camp counselor, or coach. But their experiences aren’t very rich in the messier way — in those moments of unfettered abandon when part of the thrill is the risk of harm, hurt feelings, or struggle. In our attempt to manage and support every moment of our children’s lives, they become something that belongs to us, not them.

Posted by Jill Fallon at December 3, 2011 3:03 PM | Permalink