What are the pros and cons of giving kids their space and is there a danger of giving children too little or too much freedom? We look at three different approaches from three different families on giving kids they space they need to be themselves.
So what’s wrong with giving kids their space?
Meet the Parents: The Petersons, the Smyths and the Janssens
All three families believe in giving their kids space to be themselves and yet there’s trouble in River City.
For the Petersons, their child, Skeeter, tends to get into more and more trouble, while the parents see him less and less. For the Smyths, their daughter, Patti, tends to do scarier and scarier things right under their noses. For Charley Janssen, the freedom has been an opportunity for her to find her own place in the world as an artist and an entrepreneur.
How could so much freedom be a bad thing for some and a good thing for others?
It is not in what we do but our intentions that breed fortune or misfortune.
For the Petersons, a family of highly successful people who are captains of their industries, leaders in charity and the ultimate in hosts, the space they offered Skeeter was filled with maids, video games, and “buddies” doing whatever they wanted, showing themselves to be understanding and cool parents.
For the Smyths, pillars of their community, the space they gave was filled with chances for their child to succeed that felt to them like waving a piece of extra-tasty cheese in front of a lactose intolerant cat—the resulting response always ending in a predictable, “Aha, I knew you would do that!”
Then there were the Janssens, who believed that sometimes the best parenting involved benign neglect in order to allow Charley to find herself, be responsible for her curfews, take care of her work and make choices about her life. All of her choices were accepted and this seemed to make Charley more sure of herself, investigative and willing to give something her best. If it did not work out as she had anticipated, she would simply try another route free of fear or blame.
Was giving space wrong for Skeeter and Patti? Not necessarily, but sometimes what we don’t say shouts louder then what we do say. When we have faith in our kids, they come from their strengths. When we are fearful of every bump, they feel unsafe in the world and often self-sabotage. When we say the “right things” without sharing our deepest truths, our kids will minimize dangerous “adventures” and suffer the consequences.
How scary is it in this world today to trust that our children can be safe? Studies on children’s independent mobility show that our fears of childhood abductions by strangers (which are, statistically, incredibly low) are driving parents to chaperone their children everywhere, setting up children to “lose the freedom to create, explore and gain mastery over their physical and social environments (and) they also lose opportunities that could be significant in developing healthy lifestyles, social networks and environmental competence and resilience” (Valentine, 1997; Kearns et al, 2003; MacMillan, 2005; Prezza et al, 2005).
We need to allow our children to explore, to be OK with the occasional scrape and scratch, to ensure that they are trained to be stranger-proofed without instilling fear and we need to believe that each person has wisdom that will blossom when we encourage it.
Now repeat after me: When we say over and over again in our minds that we believe in the common good sense of our children and that they will learn from their mistakes and become the best that they can be, we send out that faith into our children. Unfortunately, the reverse is true as well. Be certain that they are up to no good and you shall be proved right.
To find our place in the world as young adults, we must first leave our father’s house, leave all the things we know, leave our land and go out towards an unknown adventure that promises us untold abundance if we keep faith in ourselves and keep our wits about us. The first step in that system is space. No one can give that space more lovingly or powerfully than a caring parent.
Stay tuned for more upcoming articles from Ken
Friday, March 16th Teenagers: Give Them What They Want?
Friday, March 23rd Parents Who Care Too Much.
Friday, March 30th Stay tuned!
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How do you approach giving your kids space? Do you feel children need a lot of space or moderated amounts? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.