In the news today, there is a story about a New York City mom named Lenore Skenazy, who is trying to save parents from themselves. A “free-range” parent, she has started an after school program that aids “helicopter parents” in letting go. What is this amazing new program, you ask?
You drop off your kids in a pre-deteremined location in Central Park, and for $350, (which pays for eight 90-minute-sessions) Lenore Skenazy will sit in a coffee shop nearby while your 8-18 year old children play alone, without any supervision. (She will have a cell phone in case of emergencies.)
Her argument is that many children are over-parented and over-protected. Kids are never outside alone without their parents, and some parents are so scared to allow them outside that their children grow up in a playroom with hundreds of toys instead of outside with nature and unstructured, outdoor play. Other kids are so over structured with pre-determined play dates, music lessons and sports practices that they never get the chance to be.
As a child, I lived in a safe, suburban town. My brother and I played outside all the time. We ran between four or five backyards that were connected to ours, and we played Capture the Flag with neighborhood kids on most summer days. Sometimes, we’d ride our bikes down half the street to our imaginary boundary, and then turn around and go home. My mom always said there was someone watching; that she knew all the parents in the neighborhood, and she could guarantee at least one person was looking at the window at any given time. In other words, she convinced us we were being supervised, even when we weren’t. And generally, things were fine. We were safe, we had fun, and we came home when it was time for dinner.
Have times changed that much? Is Lenore Skenazy correct in her assumption that kids are losing out on their childhood because they don’t have time to be kids and play alone, without parental intervention? Or is she over-compensating for helicopter parents who don’t want to let their kids be free and solve conflicts on their own? She argues that in her “program,” kids will learn to deal with conflict, grow in confidence and feel more secure and independent.
What do you think? Is she right? Or is she way off base?