With the pressure on parents rising, we could all learn something from the concept of ‘good enough parenting’ proposed half a century ago
When many middle-aged people think back to their childhood, they remember roaming the streets with their friends during long, hot summers. Our parents threw us out the door in the morning and instructed us not to come back until dinnertime. Often in charge of younger siblings, we strayed further than we should have, got into trouble and, by the end of the summer, had a collection of triumphs, scars and memories for life.
But surely, such memories are just nostalgia? The bit about the sun always shining probably is. Yet one thing is certain – the level of parental involvement and supervision in the 1970s was not a fraction of what is expected today. Fast forward to 2014, and a woman was arrested for allowing her nine-year-old child to play in the park while she worked.
So what impact do increasing levels of parental involvement have on children? Let’s take a look at the evidence.
A recent survey of children aged eight to 12 found that indoor play is now the norm, a third have never splashed in a puddle and the distance that children are allowed to play from home has shrunk by 90 per cent since 1970.
Parenting hasn’t only changed in terms of what is considered safe for children. Parents now worry more about the impact of their parenting on their children, feeling pressured to provide a stream of stimulating activities in a way that would have once seemed absurd. This has led to the emergence of two types of related parenting styles: the “helicopter” and the “lawnmower”.
Helicopter parents, as the name suggests, spend a lot of time hovering. They always stay close to their children, ready to swoop in and direct, help or protect (usually before it is needed). Lawnmower parents are one step ahead of their children, smoothing their path and making sure nothing gets in their way. Common tactics of both include interfering significantly with their grown-up children’s lives, such as complaining to employers when their children don’t get a job.
But does enabling a childhood free from stress really help them in the long term? And what happens when children never have to get themselves out of tricky situations?
Not rocket science
As with anything, there is a middle ground. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realise that providing children with opportunities and support helps them to gain experiences, confidence and networks that they wouldn’t be offered in more adverse settings. But there is an important line between supporting children and wrapping them in gold-plated cotton wool.
Allowing children the freedom to take appropriate risks through outdoor play is essential for their development. Risky play does not mean placing children in grave danger, but instead allowing them to be children – climbing, jumping from heights and hanging upside down are good examples. Risky play allows children to test limits and solve problems. And, yes, this includes learning what happens when they overstretch themselves and fall.
– Amy Brown