Throwback Parenting: why we should be raising our kids like it’s 1974

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The parent looked at me with concern. “Is that safe?” she asked and gestured to our new playground. It was a beautiful day; sunny, just the hint of a breeze. I turned to look at the reality of my vision and smiled.

Since the 90s, swing sets have been removed from playgrounds. Straight slides were removed because they picked up too much speed. The term ‘helicopter parent’ was introduced into our vocabulary.

We can all remember playing in the vacant lot until sundown, walking through the woods with neighborhood kids, and taking a stroll to the corner store. A lot of people say, “Those were the days… but it’s a lot different now.”

And it is different. Today, children have learning challenges, emotional issues and heightened sensory awareness. ‘Back in the day,’ it was rare to hear about these issues.

Psychology Today reported on a study where rats were prohibited to play during “a critical phase in their development.” This made the protected rats “emotionally crippled.” When they were finally placed into a common environment, the protected rats “overacted with fear and failed to adapt and explore surroundings.” Furthermore, protected rats were shown to react inappropriately and with aggression.

The same study notes that over the last 60 years there’s been a “continuous, gradual but dramatic increase in childhood mental disorders, especially emotional disorders.” Experts philosophize this is because of prohibited and protected play.

Another fear factor introduced into our generation of helicopter parents is the continuous need to be plugged in to the media. Are there more pedophiles today than 20 years ago? Or have the horrible stories been made more known, thanks to the ever-present media?

According to the Huffington Post, “If there was a kidnapping or case of child abuse or child murder in one part of the country, those at a distance would never hear about it. But in our Internet-fueled world, we hear about threats daily, however distant they are,” says the Huffington Post. “It’s not surprising that many parents are terrified for their children’s safety.”

Psychology Today says children climb trees to “scary heights” to get a bird’s eye view of the world…and they get a thrill out of it. They ride skateboards at high speeds, swing too high and whiz down slides …just fast enough to “produce the thrill of almost, but not quite, losing control.”

When you let your child make their own mistakes, they learn from them. They discover limits and push boundaries. Their self-esteem is put on hyper-speed when they learn to do things themselves, on their own terms.

There’s no doubt you feel different now that you are the age you are. You have life experience. You’ve had your heart broken. You’ve fallen and gotten back up. If all “the bad things” that happened to you never happened, you wouldn’t be the person you are. You wouldn’t have common sense and know what ‘feel right’ and what ‘feels wrong.’

It’s not easy to let your child walk home from school. It’s scary – for you. And you will feel an absolute moment of relief when you see her come around the corner. But know, that your child just had a little adventure, and adventures are exciting because they’re a little bit scary.
About Jennifer Wheelhouse
Jennifer Wheelhouse is a mother of two and the Head of School at the AMS-accredited Montessori Children’s House (MCH.) MCH has been educating children for the last 28 years and is where Jennifer sent her own children. To learn more about MCH, please visit MCHkids.com; or reach Jennifer directly at Jennifer@mchkids.com

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