Thursday, July 26, 2018 | 2 a.m.
Left on their own, children can and do get hurt in a dizzying number of ways. That’s an unavoidably ugly fact of life for parents.
But new studies are showing that parents who try too hard to keep children out of harm’s way are actually accomplishing exactly the opposite.
Experts say overprotection is driving an increase in anxiety among the nation’s children. In one recent study, based on face-to-face interviews with more than 10,000 children, researchers concluded that nearly 1 in 3 adolescents meets the criteria for anxiety disorder. Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 32 percent of respondents to its Youth Risk Behavior Study said they had persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness.
The problem, according to experts, is that children are being deprived of unsupervised play, which is not only good for their physical health but is a critical element of their social and psychological development. Free play’s benefits include teaching children to manage relationships, solve problems independently, recognize risks and gain self-esteem.
But it’s being lost because of parents who, despite having good intentions, are restricting their children to supervised activities and being overzealous in keeping them away from situations in which they could be hurt.
And that’s where the anxiety comes in. Children are feeling straitjacketed, much like an adult would feel if he or she had a hovering, micromanaging boss.
To be fair, parents aren’t completely to blame for this stubborn trend. State laws have expanded the definition of parental neglect, and some states have set a legal minimum age when children can be left alone. Social pressure can also make it difficult to for parents to turn kids loose.
But advocates for child health say that regardless of what’s causing the situation, it needs to change. Their efforts have led to initiatives like the Free Range Kid movement, which encourages parents to let their children walk to school and play in unsupervised settings, and Let It Grow, an activist organization that works with communities to foster independence in children.
These and other groups aren’t discounting the need for safety, but they are working to dispel unfounded fears among parents. A key part of their messsage: Contrary to many parents’ belief, crime is lower today than it was when they were kids and were allowed to roam for hours in their neighborhoods. If you don’t believe it, check out this list of stories and statistics from Let It Grow: letgrow.org/resources/crime-stats/
The organization also has assembled a comprehensive set of facts and figures answering questions like, “Is it true that children shouldn’t go into public bathrooms alone?”
Here’s hoping efforts like these continue to grow, and parents can loosen their grip.
Kids are always going to get hurt. But by holding onto them too tightly, we’re hurting them ourselves.