“We are raising our children in captivity,” British psychologist Tanya Byron has said many times (including here). Some kids are monitored and scheduled to within an inch of their lives, it seems, leaving little time for reflection and creativity. In a thorough look into this question of over-parenting, USATODAY found a US psychologist, Laurence Steinberg at Temple University, who agrees with Byron (and I’m sure there are plenty more), saying that kids need playtime – unstructured, messing-around time. The social media researchers who contributed to the MIT Press book Hanging Out, Messing Around and Geeking Out found the same thing about kids online too. Sometimes, they say, messing around with media tools, producing, and gaming online and on phones leads to some amazing professional interests and work (or “geeking out”), complete with mentoring, coaching, feedback, and healthy competition that hone skills for college and careers. But how can that happen when we’re monitoring and scheduling their every online moment? I think we owe our kids the kind of free creative time our parents gave us.
Of course sometimes over-parenting means over-protecting, which USATODAY looked at too. I was delighted to see reporter Sharon Jayson quote historian Paula Fass of University of California, Berkeley, confirming what I’ve been saying for a long time: that it’s not that our children face more danger than we did, it’s that we think – or are being led to think (by our surrounding culture and media environment) – that they do. In fact, as Prof. David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire pointed out late last year, all the risk indicators involving youth are down, some significantly down, over the past 15 years (see this, with nine of them listed as bullet points). USATODAY quotes a professor of social work as saying this too: Kids are safer than ever today. I also appreciated the point the article makes about resilience. Think about how important it is in bullying and cyberbullying situations. While research shows that bullying is down (see this), certainly we need to keep working on mitigation of both, but while we’re doing that, let’s also keep working on resilience, which enables kids to handle adversity better. It’s both preventive of emotional harm and protective from it. The American Psychological Association says resilient children even learn better. USATODAY mentions a just-released book on the subject in which its author, pediatrician Kenneth Ginsburg, offers solutions to help kids navigate stress and focuses on the importance of resilience rather than perfectionism: Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Kids Roots and Wings.