Cruising through the TV channels yesterday after work, I noticed that Dr. Phil was doing a show featuring "helicopter parents." The question he asked was: Do we, as parents, let our children have no freedom at all, or do we stand back and let them do everything on their own?
The answer, in my opinion, is neither. You have to walk a fine line between the two. If you let your child have no rules, no boundaries at all, they grow up thinking that they have to follow no rules at all -- either that of adults or of society. That's not a realistic expectation. If you go the other extreme, however, you run the risk of having a child become secretive to hide the "forbidden" behaviors you've driven them into. That's the reason why we have the stereotype of the preacher's daughter -- denied all the fun and taboo things in life, so they rebel and are (a lot of the time) the wildest kids around. Now, for all my preacher friends out there, I'm not talking about YOUR kids. :)
Dr. Phil also had a mother on who has taken a lot of flack in the press recently -- a mother who let her 9 year old son find his way home, alone, from Bloomingdale's. Now, some key points of this particular story (for those of you who don't know of it and live under a rock, or something) are: the child had ASKED to do this sort of activity for a while; the parents discussed it beforehand, and decided it was feasible; the child was not *abandoned* -- he had a city map, a subway Metro card, and $20. As an aside, I would be interested to know whether or not he had a cell phone with him in case of emergency, but we're not told if he has one or not. The mother took the boy to Bloomingdale's, and the child had to find his way home from there. The parents looked at his abilities, and decided that this was something that thought that not only he was CAPABLE of doing, but also SHOULD do so that he would be better able to navigate the city and find his way around.
The mother has gotten bushels of hate mail, saying she's the 'worst Mom in America.' Why would you think she was a terrible mother for giving her child the freedom to explore and learn how to do things on his own? If you never let a child out of your sight, they'll either grow up terribly repressed and run like hell the moment they get any freedom at all, or they will be so stunted as to not know how to deal with other people and with any obstacles that life throws at them. I'm not saying that you should take your kid from East Podunk, Missouri and drop them off in the big city with a ten spot and a map -- that would be completely irresponsible.
What we're talking about here is letting children have some freedoms within reason. How many of you played outside all day when you were younger? People my age ought to remember playing outside without parental supervision -- I remember my mother telling me that I had to be home either by the time the street lights came on, or when she called us for dinner. I was a bookworm as a child (still am, really) and my mother would take away my books and send me outside as *punishment!* I had to go out and find something to do. Ride my bike, go to the playground, find a friend... We've gotten so scared of horrible things happening to our kids that we can't IMAGINE sending them outside all day long. There's something very sad about that. No one wants their kids to be hurt, abducted, or worse, God forbid, but we can't wrap them in Bubble Wrap and closet them away forever. If we never let anything happen to them, nothing will ever happen to them. And, not only will they be totally unprepared to take on obstacles when they're older, they'll also be too frightened to take on new tasks and expect us to bail them out should the slightest thing go wrong.