Saturday, October 2, 2010

Lenore Skenazy

She may not be Oprah, but there's another American visiting Australia.  Her name is Lenore Skenazy, and she'll be speaking in Melbourne at The Wheeler Centre, on 5 October. 

I don't think she's super famous here in America. I wouldn't know her by name, but I have heard her story.  She allowed her nine-year-old to ride the subway alone in NYC.  That brought worth a huge range of people wanting to share their input.  Some folks see her as a horrible parent, and some see her as a very brave parent.

When I was a kid we had much more freedom than our kids do now.  We've become quite paranoid and overprotective.   For example, we're at the lake house now.  The kids (ages 7-9) wanted to go to the cottage to play video games. It's a relatively safe room. It's probably about 50 feet from the main house. Yet we had an adult with them the whole time.  Why?  What are we worried about?

We're being really ridiculous.  

I don't want to be ridiculous.  I want to be brave like Skenazy.  But I have this hesitation.

I have given Jack freedom before. For some reason, I do it when we're in Australia. I don't know why.  When we're at holiday parks, I let Jack wander off by himself sometimes.   But the thing is....I'm NOT feeling relaxed about it.  I worry when he's away.  I have these feelings of panic.    Once when he was six, he got lost while traveling around the holiday park.  A father brought him back to me, which was really nice of him.  I had a mix of emotions. I felt sad for Jack who was crying. I felt relieved that he was found.  I felt embarrassed and ashamed.  I felt like a neglectful parent.  And some people out there would agree. I WAS a neglectful parent. It's a dangerous world out there. You shouldn't let your child out of your sight.  Not for a minute!  Other people would say I was brave.   And good for me for not being a helicopter parent. 

I do believe we should give children more space....more freedom.   However, I also think we need to keep them on at least a little bit of a leash.  It's not just that we need to worry about what can happen TO our children, but what our children might do when an adult is not around to supervise.

And honestly I think that's one of the reasons we follow the kids around the lake house.    Now we DO let them go to rooms all by themselves.  We're not THAT uptight. But we hesitate to let them go to a whole other house by themselves.   I think what we worry about is what they'll do to each other.   The kids fight a lot....especially my two nieces, but Jack will tangle himself up into it sometimes too.     The kids hit, push, kick, bite, etc.  We probably should let the kids "work it out on their own".   Sometimes this is good advice.

And sometimes it's bad advice.  Sometimes the "let kids work it out on their own" mentality leads to bullying and other types of frightening/disturbing/uncomfortable situations.

We had a disastrous homeschooling party at our house several weeks ago.  Including Jack, there were seven kids. They went upstairs to play.  The adults stayed downstairs and had discussions about curriculum and God.  This wasn't too exciting for me, the secular unschooler. So I wasn't too bothered when Jack started insisting I come upstairs to be with the kids.   He had started out happy and excited about the party.   As the time progressed, he became weary and timid.   A little later he was hiding behind a dresser crying. Why? The kids were very wild, unfriendly towards Jack, and disrespectful towards his stuff.

Before tears were involved, I went back and forth between the adults and children.  When I was downstairs, we could hear the kids being extremely loud. One of the mothers sheepishly said, I hope they're not breaking anything upstairs.   

Well, if you're worried your child is breaking something, go up and check on them! You don't have to stay with them for the whole party.  Give them SOME freedom.    But also step in and do your job as a parent.  Sometimes parenting is about loosening the leash, and sometimes it's about tightening it. It takes a lot of balance. It really does. I definitely haven't mastered it yet. By the time I figure out the answers, Jack will probably have children of his own.