Do any of us ever feel completely sure that we’re getting parenting right, or even mostly right? God knows I don’t. I always love to hear about a thought-provoking parenting book, and today, I’m thrilled for Julie Frist to share her thoughts on one that has influenced her approach heading into the new year…
From Julie: We all know that books provide a nice escape from the real world. They also teach us powerful lessons. Regardless of what I read, I almost always learn something interesting. I love how books inspire us, give us perspective, make us laugh, make us cry, make us think about tough issues and ultimately help us reflect on what’s really important in life. Some of my favorite reads this past year include The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes, Before the Fall by Noah Hawley, The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah and My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout. The book that really resonated with me, however, was Free-Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry) by Lenore Skenazy. I admit that I don’t read many parenting books, but this one is hilarious and really struck a nerve. A very close friend (who happens to be a psychiatrist and who knows I love a good laugh) sent it to me.
If you Google the “World’s Worst Mom,” you will find multiple pages on Lenore Skenazy who, in 2008, let her nine-year-old son take the subway home by himself in New York City. People were shocked and a media frenzy followed. The next thing she knew, she was on a string of morning shows being grilled about how she could ever let her son ride the subway alone. Despite how some may perceive her, Lenore Skenazy is not a reckless or negligent mother. She is all for seatbelts and bike helmets (a seatbelt actually saved her life as a child) but she questions the belief that “we need to constantly protect our children from creeps, kidnappers, germs, failure, grades, bullies, men, sleepovers and/or the perils of a non-organic grape.” She does a great job explaining how our safety-obsessed culture is a huge disservice to children. Depression, obesity, and loneliness are just some of the unintentional consequences of our fear. Apparently, college campuses are flooded with students who are overwhelmed by sudden independence after a lifetime of overprotection. Teachers and administrators call these young adults “teacups” – they show beautifully with their grades and SAT scores but if you take them out of the cabinet, they break.
I met Skenazy at a small dinner recently and thought she was terrific. She is smart, has an excellent sense of humor and is clearly onto something when she says that it’s time to liberate kids and stop overprotecting them. The author claims that excessive worrying and over-coddling has become a national pastime. She writes, “Chances are, your parents didn’t attend every soccer practice or gymnastics lesson, but now a lot of us do. Sometimes it’s fun – we get to watch the kids frolic, and also gossip with other parents. But sometimes we’d rather be doing something else. Anything else. Cleaning the oven. Flossing. Yet there we are, freezing (or baking) in the bleachers. Our job is to be ever present: encouraging, witnessing, and, often enough, electronically documenting.” Mea culpa.
Most importantly, Free Range Kids raises key questions: Is it really beneficial to hover over our children? To essentially treat them like invalids? Why are children receiving trophies for last place? Why are kids being praised for everything they do even if their performance is mediocre? How will these kids turn out? Will they be resilient, happy, self-confident, creative, independent adults? Will they enjoy being challenged and able to engage in difficult conversations? Not according to Skenazy and her research. More likely, America is at risk of raising a generation of fragile, over-sensitive, safety-craving kids who will struggle to become leaders who can make a difference in the world. Yikes. This hit home for me. Like many parents, I am not exactly eager to let my children run free in a world that seems to get scarier every day. The truth, though, is that these worries are largely unwarranted. It turns out that most adults are not very good at assessing risk (myself included). Somehow, though, we feel like the more we worry, the more responsible we are being as parents. Skenazy admits that it’s not easy to let go and give children freedom – things can happen and no one wants to be viewed as a slacker mom or dad. But what makes us look and feel good as parents doesn’t always correlate with what is best for our children.
Free Range Kids is a thought-provoking book for anyone who spends time with children. It made me laugh out loud and has definitely helped me relax a little. There is no doubt that I can do a better job letting my children have more freedom. Easier said than done but as Skenazy points out, “You don’t remember the times your dad held your handle bars. You remember the day he let go.”
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For more good advice in the new year, Julie recommends checking out Dr. Samantha Boardman’s website Positive Prescription. With articles on how to Optimize Everyday, Maximize Mood, Cultivate Connections, and Get Inspired, Boardman shares joyful, healthy, smart advice from experts and leaders in many fields.