While they were waiting for their older brother Logan to pick them up in his four-wheeler, Jamie Moffitt’s kids would play a game where they would stand in designated spots in the yard, pay a fake fare, and head off on imaginary journeys.
Even though the girls are getting older, they still enjoy doing childhood activities together like walks and bike rides. In their town of Grantsville, it’s common for kids to go out places by themselves or in small groups. They often go to Sweet Hearts to buy ice cream or other treats.
Moffitt said that her first instinct is always to let her kids go, but she quickly realizes that they need to be able to protect and entertain themselves. She said that her kids need to be able to take responsibility for making smart choices and be capable as challenges arise.
She is the type of mother who would make different choices if she lived in a larger town or a more dangerous neighborhood. She hopes that her choices wouldn’t be too different from what she would choose now.
Before the pandemic, parents like Moffitt had trouble balancing their children’s need to explore, learn new skills, and socialize with others against the instinct to keep them safe. Childhood was already shrinking, with fewer opportunities for children to do things on their own. Then COVID-19 hit, and play and socialization were largely put on hold.
The experts say that the damage to social-emotional development could be hard to completely overcome. They were already worried about this before.
What Kids Can Lose
Sanam Hafeez, a neuropsychologist from Columbia University in New York, believes that children learn best through play. According to Hafeez, playtime activities such as climbing, running, dancing, and gymnastics help improve coordination and fine motor skills in little kids. Furthermore, as children get older, play can teach them important skills such as sharing, respecting others’ interests, and how to win or lose with grace. Ultimately, play provides an opportunity for children to learn patience and tolerance, problem-solving, and sharing the spotlight.
Hafeez said that there is a generational difference in how childhood normally plays out. She said that Generation Xers, who were born between 1965 and 1980 and raised without cellphones and other digital entertainment, spent many hours outside playing. Today, parents are more likely to hover, either physically or using apps to track a child’s activities.
The speaker believes that parents used to have to worry less about their children because they would go outside to play and use their imaginations, but now parents have to be more vigilant because of the dangers of the world and the rise in technology.
Mowitt is in agreeance that the world has changed, however she is concerned about how much children have lost because of it. She does not want to be overbearing, and believes that giving children some freedom allows them to learn responsibility and communication skills. Additionally, her children are seldom bored because they are creative and like to play.
There is often debate about how much freedom children should have and this often depends on who is supervising them. Both parents and policymakers contend with finding the right balance between safety and adventure. They also have to deal with each other’s ideas on this topic.
Susan Groner and a friend used to make greeting cards and sell them to people in their neighborhood when she was younger. One time, they walked through some woods nearby and got lost. When Groner was 14, her parents allowed her to wander around New York City by herself. Groner wouldn’t let her own kids do things like that now, she told the Deseret News.
Although she can’t be certain, she believes the world is getting more dangerous. With modern technology, we are constantly bombarded with news stories about terrible things happening to children, whether it be natural disasters, accidents, or deliberate harm. She understands that parents want to keep their kids safe and close by.
Kearney notes that in the past, there were more opportunities for kids to play freely and explore on their own. Christopher A. Kearney, professor and chairman of the psychology department at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, believes that the physical limits to what children can do have shrunk. He believes that this is not just an issue for individual neighborhoods but for society as a whole. He observes that in the past, there were more opportunities for kids to play without supervision and to explore on their own.
A few years ago, almost every parent on a street knew each other. Kids would visit each other’s houses often. That’s not usually the case now and parents feel anxious about where their kids go, what they’re doing, and who is watching them, Kearney said.
Children are missing out on vital social skills due to the pandemic, including the ability to handle conflict. This is because they have fewer opportunities to interact with each other, read facial expressions, and process emotions. The situation is made worse by the use of masks, which makes communication even more difficult. The lack of social interaction is one of the factors contributing to the high rates of depression and anxiety among young people.
He stated that he believes there to be more rescuing going on now then in the past. This is due to parents wanting to protect their children from feeling any type of discomfort.
Kearney said that parents should not immediately rush to their children’s aid if they feel anxious at a birthday party. It is important for children to experience mild to moderate levels of anxiety so that they can learn to control and manage it.
Some kids use technology to socialize through virtual relationships which can lead to cyberbullying and negative comparisons.
Although Groner believes that children have more opportunities in some ways, she also thinks that a part of childhood has been lost.
The text is discussing how children’s lives are full of stimulating distractions and how this may impact their ability to daydream. The author wonders if parents’ advice to “do your best” is leading to children always striving, which makes living a chore.
When she was a kid, she loved playing the piano but her daughter Hate taking piano lessons, so They looked for other things to make her happy.
Groner stated that children require life skills more than parents making sure every single one of their moments are accounted for. On the other hand, maybe they don’t if parents never plan on letting them out of their vision, she added dryly.
When parents constantly oversee their child’s activities, they don’t learn how to cope with emotions such as frustration, boredom, or disappointment, she said.
Groner believes that normal feelings should not be suppressed and instead explored. She thinks that part of learning is getting dirty and making mistakes.
Some Parents Are Trying To ‘Let Grow’
For 7-year-old Matthew of Portland, Oregon, spending hours walking through the woods alone is no scary prospect. He doesn’t have much of a backyard at his condo, so the woods behind his house essentially serve the same purpose. He enjoys swinging on a tire swing, tromping across the ravine to a friend’s house, and using garden shears to cut a path. He lays down sticks to form a bridge across the small stream that flows in the winter.
He does all this without anyone telling him what to do.
Laura Randall, mother of 7-year-old Matthew, wants her son to be confident and independent. She didn’t just give him a pair of hiking boots and some garden shears and tell him to go for it though. They worked up to it gradually with what Randall calls “experiments in independence.” These experiments allowed Matthew to slowly gain the skills and confidence needed to be independent.
Randall explained that there are moments where the kids can choose to be on their own. He knows that this isn’t typical for parenting today, where kids are shuttled from one activity to another. In the past, kids used to ride their bikes alone until the streetlights came on.
And Randall has encountered people who think she’s a bad parent — like the man who made a scene when she left Matthew alone in the car for a few minutes while she ran into the pharmacy to pick up a prescription.
Randall knows that parents in several states have been arrested for leaving their kids unattended, letting them walk to the park on their own, or even allowing them to walk to school. So she was worried about what this man might do.
Skenazy sought to correct the misconception that childhood is more dangerous than it actually is. She noted that abductions and murders of children are at record lows, even though parents perceive childhood as being more dangerous than it actually is.
The author realizes that even if parents have the facts about the benefits of giving kids independence, free time, and self-directed play, they could still feel uncomfortable if they’re the only ones affording their kids these freedoms. It could also get lonely for kids if they’re the only ones riding their bikes down the street.
“You send your kid outside and there’s nobody out there for them to play with — they’re gonna come right back in,” Skenazy laughs. “Because there is somebody to play with if they’re online.”
Skenazy’s goal is to change not only parents’ mindsets, but also the culture as a whole. To do this, she started aproject called Let Grow.
Let Grow is working to create a cultural shift, though its methods are very simple. The organization is contacting elementary schools across the U.S. to assign the Let Grow project as homework. Kids who participate choose something they’ve never done before on their own, like walk the dog, make dinner, or get eggs from the store. The schools also set up “Let Grow play clubs” where kids of all ages can play however they want, without any guidance from adults.
At Tremont Elementary in Long Island, Lori Koerner is the principal of one of the dozen schools in New York that are piloting a new project. She said that the observed a direct, positive effect in the classroom from the children who participated. The children appeared more confident and secure in themselves.
Koerner states that with Let Grow, kids learn skills and abilities that they were not aware that they possessed. They also learn about what it is like to fail. Failure is how kids learn how to overcome obstacles, try out new ideas, and become resilient. This is also how adults learn as well; ask any CEO.
Koerner asks how can students be successful in a global society if we don’t offer them opportunities to communicate, collaborate, and problem-solve.
“We are depriving them of opportunities to explore the world, to find their own interests, to develop their own passions, and to try on different identities,” he explains. Psychologists say that it is important to allow children to have free time to explore the world and find their own interests. Dr. Peter Gray, a research professor at Boston College who focuses on child play, says that by trying to give kids a leg up, and scheduling every free minute with karate or Little League or music lessons, parents are doing them enormous harm.
Gray suggests that the decline in children’s freedom over the past 50 years may be linked to the increase in responses on standardized questionnaires that indicate both depression and anxiety disorders. He notes that while there is a correlation between the two, he has looked at many possible explanations.
“It doesn’t correlate with economic cycles, wars, or divorce rates. But it correlates very well with the decline of children’s freedom to play.”
Gray believes that it is sensible that people would want to have control over their lives, because having control creates a sense of internal locus of control rather than feeling like one is at the mercy of external forces.
Internal locus of control is someone’s belief of how much control they have over their life. Every decade, young people are increasingly feeling like they have less control over their life.
This Gray person says that giving kids some control helps them learn better problem solving skills and how to cope in new environments. Also, apparently animal studies show that letting them play freely can help improve their self-control.
Parents, like Laura Randall, have the goal of parenting.
“There’s the short game, where you’re sort of doing the best you can at the moment,” Randall explains. “But there’s the long game. And there’s paying attention to allowing a little risk because it will pay off in the long run.”
Randall understands that life is full of risks, but she still gets in a car every day because it’s necessary to get where she wants to go. She wants her son Matthew to become a confident, competent adult by allowing him to make his own mistakes and figure things out, rather than sheltering him from the world. She hopes he won’t be the only kid out there doing it.