Monday, April 21, 2008

How to Be a Perfect Parent (A Handbook For Beginners)

I just read this article from the New York Sun, "Why I Let My 9-Year-Old Ride the Subway Alone." I think it's brilliant. A mom gives her kid some money and a map and lets him find his way home in New York. No cell phone, no bodyguard, no hovering parent. He makes it home safely, and learns a powerful lesson in the process.

Parents today protect their children too much. News broadcasts filled with stories of freakish accidents and heinous crimes convince us that the bizarre tragedies are common. In fact, they are quite rare. As this mom said, "Half the people I’ve told this episode to now want to turn me in for child abuse. As if keeping kids under lock and key and helmet and cell phone and nanny and surveillance is the right way to rear kids. It’s not. It’s debilitating — for us and for them."

She's right. When we have independence, we grow. We learn confidence and problem-solving skills. If the most strenuous thing your kids have to learn is to clean their rooms, they won't know what to do when the toilet is clogged or the dog is sick or the front steps crumble. If you teach them to hold tightly to your hand whenever you're in the grocery store, how will they interact with strangers when they're the ones doing the shopping? Who will teach them how to manage money wisely if you hush them every time they ask for something in the store? Who will teach them to be adults if you're so eager to protect them that you manage every aspect of their lives so as to shield them from every danger?

I'm not advocating letting small children experiment with explosives or play William Tell with Daddy's crossbow. Obviously you shouldn't let your kids play kickball on the freeway. But you should give them as much room as possible to grow and live life. Let them solve problems. Give them experience struggling with difficult challenges, instead of giving them all the answers immediately. That's how we grow and learn. And, after all, isn't that the point of life?

1 comment:

  1. I'm awfully glad my parents let me exhibit independence before I came to college, opposed to freaking out when I got here.

    (I once dated a guy who had never been alone over night in his house until he was 19. He had trouble making any decisions and might as well live at home with his parents because he practically sleeps there every night, even with a dorm room.)