Play dates. Music lessons. Sports practices and games. Clubs. Before and after care. Camps. Electronics.
These are just some of the tools we use as parents to help keep our kids busy and safe. As I mentioned in my last blog, there has been a major shift in society since I was a child as children are not really given much unsupervised time. There are pros and cons to this. One big con, though, is the effects on parents.
Parents are expected to be ever present and watchful of their kids while also tending to household needs (such as cleaning, cooking, maintenance, laundry, helping kids with homework, etc). Imagine this: I’m sitting at the kitchen table with my eldest and attempting to help her with her math. Meanwhile my seven year old and four year old want to play. My husband is not home yet. My solution is usually to have them play in the living room (which is near the kitchen table) or play downstairs. This seems reasonable although I do know a few people who don’t feel I should even let the kids play downstairs without supervision.
It would be great if I felt comfortable letting them go outside in the yard, yet I don’t. I would let them go in the back yard as it is fenced in but there is too much chance one of them will go out front. Of course, they would receive a consequence if they do that but I fear other risks. The possibly unreasonable fear of being kidnapped, the fear of injury, or the fear of having the authorities called (which based on articles I read about this occurring it might not be an unfounded fear).
This means many parents have to add the unrealistic expectation of finding ways for their children to be entertained. Of course, it is okay for children to be bored and find ways to entertain themselves, but being real, if I’m trying to help my other kid with her homework, I don’t want to deal with the distraction of her siblings. A solution I might use then is tv or a tablet. L
This type of pressure to be ever present shows up outside the home too. If I take my kids to the park, I feel they should be able to run around and play on the playground without me. This doesn’t mean I just sit and play on my phone the whole time (I like a big slide and swings) but it also doesn’t mean I won’t be on my phone at times. My kids have been known to fall down and get scraped or interact with another kid in a less than ideal way (push or yell). Before I jump in as a parent, I want kids to try to solve the problems (wouldn’t it be great if the kid pushed said “hey, that wasn’t nice” and then my kid apologized without any adult making him). I have noticed, though, that other parents do not always agree with me. They are quick to jump in, frequently follow their kids around the playground, and give me the “stare” (you know the one where they are saying with their eyes, why aren’t you watching/playing/handling your kid). This is a lot of pressure on the parents and is not necessarily best for the kids. Of course, there are some kids that need more support than others but if we don’t let our kids be challenged a little, they won’t learn as well.
I’ll end with saying sadly I don’t have a solution to the pressures parents face. Other than to say keep doing the best you can. I will keep working on finding the best balance of supervision and independence for my kids and you can do the same. Maybe my grandkids will have a better balance that way.
“I’ll check in in a few hours.”
“I’ll be home by dark.”
“I’ll ride my bike there and back.”
These were common things my friends and I would say to our parents when we were younger. It was common for me to be playing in the neighborhood with no adult supervision when I was as young as seven. You read that right, seven! My mom will say she was watching me but based on the rules I broke, I know she wasn’t. And neither were my friends’ parents. I didn’t have neglectful parents and my friends’ parents weren’t being neglectful either. Things were different growing up in the late eighties/early nineties. I often wonder if I was part of the last generation of kids who played without an ever watchful eye. My little sister is six years my junior and I know she had a very different experience and was watched much more closely. As a parent of three myself, I cannot imagine letting my children play around the neighborhood the way I did. But I’m not entirely sure why.
Statiscally, we know that strangers are much less likely to kidnap children than a friend or family member (http://www.missingkids.com/KeyFacts). I know this and yet I don’t let my ten year old bike around the block by herself. I’ve been conditioned to fear her being kidnapped even though that is very unlikely. In fact, according to the article BECOMING SAFETY AWARE Parent’s Guide to Child Safety , children are one hundred times more likely to be killed in a car accident than in a kidnapping (http://www.keepyourchildsafe.org/child-safety-book/child-awareness.html). I read many statistics like this and yet it does not change my decision to limit my children’s freedoms.
I have a few reasons for this:
1. There is always that small chance they will be kidnapped and that horrifies me!
2. The judgement of others (let’s face it, Children’s Division will be called if my younger two are found somewhere by themselves regardless of their maturity level).
3. I would guess most of us don’t know our neighbors the same way we did when I was younger (for a variety of reasons but let’s face it, we are not as neighborly).
4. Not as many adults are around to hear or see if a child is in distress (in the majority of homes, all the adults are working).
5. Kids are not as mature (most likely, though, because we don’t give them as much independence).
I know this makes things harder on parents and teaches the kids in a different way. Check out my next blog on how I think parents are affected.
JENNIFER EULBERG, MA, LPC
Welcome Jennifer, our new blogger!
Jennifer is a counselor at Sandhill who specializes in depression, self-esteem, and grief & loss. Get to know Jennifer as she shares her perspectives on life, contemplates value themes, and offers gentle encouragement.
THANK YOU to Stefanie Pisarkiewicz, LPC for her blog contributions from November 2014 - February 2019!