JOURNEY TO WHOLENESS - March 2018 - Kansas City
Raising Children: Which is better Wimps or Free-Range?
By Jude LaClaire, Ph.D.
In the last decade there has been increased concern and discussion about some alarming trends in the Millennial and Z generations. Hara Estroff Marano in A Nation of Wimps: The High Cost of Invasive Parenting (2008) states “Colleges are experiencing record demand for counseling and intensive support services from students with serious psychological problems…anxiety and depression, binge drinking and substance abuse, eating disorders, self-mutilation and other manifestations of self-disconnection.”
Prescriptions for stimulant drugs for ADD/ADHD in children ages six to fourteen has risen four hundred percent compared to the previous decade. Anti-depressant use in children has risen three hundred and thirty percent in the same time period. Those statistics are from the last decade. The current numbers are even higher.
A recent study by the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan found that since the 1970s, children have lost 12 hours a week of free time, including a fifty percent drop in outdoor free play. Both Marano and Lenore Skenazy, author of Free-Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry) agree that one of the primary problems is performance pressure in academics and sports. This leads to over-functioning and attention on the part of the parents, much more structured time in study and physical activities. There is very little time for free play, time to create their own activities and fun.
While Marano takes a more serious, sometimes pessimistic view, of the future for these children, Skenazy has a more humorous, positive view with proposed solutions. Both offer many valid, interesting and helpful points.
Marano’s thesis is, “ Overprotected and over-managed by their parents, and with few challenges all their own through which to sharpen their instincts and identities, kids are unable to forge their own unique adaptations to the normal vicissitudes of life. That not only makes them risk-aversive; it makes them psychologically fragile. In the process they’re robbed of identity, meaning, and a sense of mastery, which underlies real happiness. Forget, too, about perseverance not simply a moral virtue but necessary life skill.”
Skenazy says, “Free-Range Kids believe…the best way to keep your kids safe is to worldproof your baby. Or at least worldproof your growing children. That way they’re safe even when you’re not right there next to them.” The Free-Range Kids Membership Cards reads, “I’m not lost, I am a Free-Range Kid! I have been taught to cross the street safely. I know never to GO OFF with strangers, but I can talk to them. I like going outside and exploring the world. If you are a grown-up, you probably did the same thing when you were a kid, so please do not be alarmed. The adults in my life know where I am, but if you want to talk to them, feel free to give them a call.”
In the Free-Range Parent Membership Statement, she reminds us of the statistics on the true safety of our children.
36% decline in homicides of children under age 14, 1993-2005
60% decline in homicides of children ages 14-17, 1993-2005
(Source: U.S. Dept. of Justice)
79% decline in juvenile sex victimization trends (1993-2003) (Source (National Crime Victimization Survey)
Each year about 2,000 children are killed as passengers in cars. About 50 are kidnapped and killed by strangers. That means children are forty times more likely to die in a car trip to the mall than during a walk home from school.
Raising confident, competent kids is my goal.
I have seen this trend in my experience as a parent (of a GenX) and a mental health practitioner. I had to learn, sometimes in very challenging ways, that to step back and let my daughter practice what she had learned from myself and others was most important for her healthy development
In working with young people I sometimes see confusion, lack of confidence and very little knowledge of what it means to be a self-reliant, confident person in the world.
William Schutz, Ph.D., in 1958, wrote about his research in Interpersonal Needs. He stated that we need three things beyond food and shelter. We need to feel included or a sense of belonging, affection or love, and control which comes from a sense of competence. It would seem that we have opted for the love and acceptance need and sadly neglected the need for control and competence.
Skenazy and Marano give us much to ponder. How we raise our children in this culture is creating our future. Something to think about.
Jude LaClaire, Ph.D., LCPC, is a counselor, educator and author. For counseling appointments, seminars, training, speaking engagements or information on Neurobehavioral Programs or Imago Couple therapy call 913-322-5622. For more information about Jude LaClaire or the Kansas City Holistic Centre go to
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