Does Failure to Supervise = Failure to Parent?

Friday, March 28, 2014

One of the things I liked most about the neighborhood we moved to over the summer was all the kids. Just outside playing ball, riding bikes, skipping along in the sun, just happy and working things out by themselves. No hovering parents.

It took me back to my own childhood in Montreal.

We ran the streets all summer long, and it was glorious. We played games like soccer-baseball (yes, that’s what we called kickball in Canada. Leave us.) and TV tag. Some of the girls got together to practice gymnastics  in the grassy patch of the crescent in front of my house. We would ride our bikes to the park, roll our skateboards off makeshift ramps, head out on discovery rides, hit up the dépanneur (translation: corner store/bodega) for a slushie or popsicle, and play neighborhood hide-and-go-seek — big kids included — in the dark night.

It all added up to big fun, every single day. The only time we saw our respective parents was when they called us in for dinner or for the night. My dad had a special whistle for us. I can duplicate it right now, that’s how fresh it is in my mind.

I’m hoping my son will have a similar experience here in this CTLife. (I’ve been told that there is a huge hide-and-go-seek game, but it’s just one specific summer night. A start.) But, being honest, I wonder how fine I’ll be keeping some distance, not constantly checking on him when he’s a tad older and able to play on his own with buddies. Will I hovercraft it? Or will I pretend to be all free-range and easy, but inside I’m more like:

kitty freaks out | Ms. Mary Mack

I was thinking about this again while reading “The Overprotected Kid” in The Atlantic last week. This great feature story by Hanna Rosin looks at how modern parents’ preoccupation with safety has robbed kids of adventure, discovery, risk-taking and developing  independence.

“It’s hard to absorb how much childhood norms have shifted in just one generation. Actions that would have been considered paranoid in the ’70s—walking third-graders to school, forbidding your kid to play ball in the street, going down the slide with your child in your lap—are now routine. In fact, they are the markers of good, responsible parenting.

“Ask any [parent] to chronicle a typical week in their child’s life and they will likely mention school, homework, after-school classes, organized playdates, sports teams coached by a fellow parent, and very little free, unsupervised time. Failure to supervise has become, in fact, synonymous with failure to parent.”

I know I’ve walked the line between being reasonable and calm to having absolutely no chill about my kid’s overall safety when he’s at play. When he was younger, toddling around cramped playgrounds in Brooklyn, sometimes I was the “they’re kids; they’ll figure it out” mom relaxing in the background on the green bench. Other times I was the “why won’t that mom sitting on the green bench do something?!” hyped-up mama. And as my son’s gotten older, my worries have changed. Things like him falling off the swing aren’t at the top of my Things to Lose Sleep Over list.

Playscape breakdown | Ms. Mary Mack

We read these deep-dive pieces on modern parenthood and — when it makes sense — we try to see how we might adjust our own parenting strategies with the new information we’ve gleaned. But I often wonder if  we’re worrying too much about everything. And, trust me, the internet’s not here to allay our freak-outs either.

In the last week I’ve read about everything from the threat of Facebook’s facial recognition and corporate data mining to our young babies, to how giving your kid a weird name makes her more likely to have impulse control — which is, you should know by now, “even more important than I.Q. in predicting socioeconomic success, marital stability, and even staying out of prison.” Financial success and staying out of prison, y’all. (It must be noted that the author of this book, Parentology — a father’s memoir propped up by scientific studies — named his daughter E. and his son Yo Xing Heyno Augustus Eisner Alexander Weiser Knuckles. Yes, alll of the names. Sir. You’re doing the most.)

That’s why I downright cackled when I read this incredible new parenting study in The New Yorker. They had me from the opening line:

“A recent study has shown that if American parents read one more long-form think piece about parenting they will go fucking ape shit.”

Then I feel upon this gem of a post from the blog Wide Lawns and Narrow Minds: “If 70s Moms Had Blogs.” All the Tang-drinking, spanking and cigarette-smoking had me chuckling. Exactly what I needed to calm the hell down and just do live this Mom Life.

What say you: Do you think our need to keep a close watch on our kids at play is curbing their independence? Also, does not supervising mean you’re not parenting? Is there a happy medium? Always like to hear your take. Leave a comment below or head over to MMM‘s Facebook page and chop it up with us there.

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