Sure, they may be building independence, problem-solving, time-management, confidence, physical health, risk-taking, and more. But the neighbors don’t see any of that. What they see & think is, “Where’s the mom?”
Never mind that when we were kids, such unsupervised play with a pack of neighbor kids was the norm.
Never mind that contrary to popular belief, the world is actually safer today than it was when we were kids.
Never mind that outdoor play actually addresses dramatically more threatening issues our kids face today, such as anxiety and diabetes.
When a someone recently told me that “Where’s the mom?” is the question asked when they see my kids play, it led me to revisit the way unstructured, unsupervised play has declined since when we were kids (sidebar: what about “Where’s the dad?” If we’re going to be judged, at least let it be equal opportunity judgement!). I have started to wonder whether this is less about protecting kids and more about protecting ourselves from judgement (offline & online) from other adults.
Ultimately, we need to find the courage to set aside those fears and focus on kids’ needs. We have been told, “You can’t be too careful when it comes to kids’ safety.” But the truth is that “an obsession with safety carries its own risks,” not least of which include a child’s diminished sense of autonomy. (see “Child Safety Up, Child Anxiety Up. Hmmm.“).
As a teacher, this seems to have direct parallels in the classroom as well. Both teachers and parents are pressured to make all the decisions in the name of safety or future success. Both are put under such an intense microscope, challenging the status quo is risky business. Both face an ever-present risk of severe judgement.
As a result, child autonomy is suffering, but we have the power to change that. We can:
- Let them walk/bike to school (join LetGrow if you’re interested in finding other families near you to walk/bike with).
- Find ways to help kids plan their own learning time or free time.
- Encourage student choice & seek out student voice.
- Get inspired by reading picture books together that illustrate magical independent childhoods.
- Actively discuss with kids the nature of autonomy and how we can work toward that goal.
And of course, it always helps when we find our tribe! There are many Facebook groups (one example here) and Twitter hashtags (#StudentAgency & #studentchoice) where you can find supportive teachers and parents who are similarly working toward childhood independence.
featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto