I just finished reading Free-Range Kids by Lenore Skenazy. At first, I wasn’t going to read it, thinking, “Yeah, yeah, I get it. Kids need to be outside more, in calming fresh air. It helps them sleep, and do better in school. Less screen time is always better. What more is there to say?”
Well, for some good reason, I bought the book and read it anyway. Whoa! Am I glad I did! This book isn’t just about giving your kids more freedom. It’s also about giving yourself a break from all the worrying that seems to define good parenting these days.
Too Much Parenting Anxiety
Anxiety is epidemic in our country, and especially anxiety related to parenting. It’s wearing parents out and it’s ruining our parenting years. It’s guaranteeing that our children will suffer from anxiety disorders of their own, because, anxiety is “contagious”. We’re teaching it every day.
Anxiety is also a bit sneaky, and it’s not very friendly. Worry takes root in our minds one repetitive news broadcast at a time. One comment from a friend at a time. One “what if” at a time. One Facebook post of a distant tragedy at a time. One reference to safety at a time. I’m sure that when you decided to have a child you didn’t commit to all this worrying. No. You did not.
It’s not that we need to stop caring about taking good care of our children or stop paying attention to the world. Not at all. It’s about learning to be smarter than the worry.
Ready for Some Free-Range Parenting?
In Free-Range Kids, Lenore uses a lot of statistics and data to reveal the truth of numerous favorite worry topics that parents are dealing with. For the treatment of anxiety conditions in my office, learning to gather data is critical. Data is the truth. It dismantles the assumptions that fuel our irrational and unnecessary fears.
For example, starting on page 147 of her book, Skenazy reports data on many issues parents have learned to obsess over. Some examples:
- Cell phones and brain cancer – According to Nirit Weiss, a brain surgeon, the vast majority of studies have found abosuletely (yes, she said absolutely) no connection between cell phones and brain tumors, cancerous or benign. Skenazy references a book Future Files by R. Watson when she notes that people worried that the telegraph would interfere with weather and that the electric street lights that replaced gas ones posed a health risk, much like cell phones.
- Internet Predators – David Finkelhor of the University New Hampshire found that sexual predators did not approach random children online. Rather, they directed their sexual attention to kids who 1. were communicating online with a lot of people they don’t know, 2. were going to sexually oriented sites and, 3. were appearing online in a sexualized persona by using sexy names or decorating their site with suggestive images. In other words, they made themselves high risk of online encounters. Public chat rooms turn out to create more risk than Facebook or MySpace due to the fact that anyone can wander into the chat room and talk about anything at all.
- Stranger Danger – “Don’t talk to strangers” has now been updated to “Don’t go off with strangers.” Think about it. If a creep approaches a child, what they absolutely need is to talk to the closest stranger and get some HELP. Don’t talk to strangers teaches children that no one can be trusted. Then, who will help your child? A child is 40 times more likely to die as a passenger in a car crash than to be kidnapped and killed by a stranger. A child is 89 times more likely to be molested by a relative than by a stranger. This data comes from Ernie Allen the head of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the organization that plastered our milk cartons with pictures of missing children (and neglected to tell us that most of them had run away or family members had abducted them.)
Be An Honest Parent
I’m not referring to being honest with your kids. Of course you already do that, all the time!
I mean being honest with yourself about how well you actually parent. Honestly admit your strengths. How much of good parenting means not worrying too much about things in the world you can’t control?
And what about the things that simply occur as part of growing up, such as, a broken arm, a tumble off a bike, or a bad grade on a spelling test? Likewise neither a disappointed child nor a less than “perfect” birthday party indicates good/bad parenting. These things constitute life.
Boss Back Those Annoying Fears
- We can search out credible data ourselves. Just type in how “often does “x” happen?” and Google it. Make sure you find credible sources of information and then read slowly and carefully, using a clear mind. Think how the information actually does or does not apply to your child’s life, remembering that fear makes us prone to rash interpretations.
- We can empower children of all ages with skills of what to do if approached by a creepy person on the way home from school, at the mall, or anywhere…even at church.
- Open communication with children about how they present themselves online, and what constitutes a real relationship, can enhance their ability to use good judgement.
- Teaching children to be self-sufficient and independent builds confidence and subsequently makes them less vulnerable. In other words, teach them how to do things, anything. Even knowing how to run the washing machine builds confidence that overflows into all other parts of your child’s life.
- We can manage our own vocabulary and watch the use of words like danger, be careful, and safety. Tell your children the boundaries of the yard and leave out the safety talk. Just tell them where they can play, and to come get you if they want to go beyond the yard. Simple!
- If you think your own anxiety is too much, or it’s intruding, find a counselor for yourself. It will help your children for you to feel better.
- Learn to be smarter than your fear.
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