website statistics

Benign Neglect: The Art of Under-Parenting

Posted by on May 10, 2013 | 5 Comments

While doing some research for a new project, I came across the term “benign neglect.” As a parenting style, it involves allowing your kids freedom to well, be kids. Let them explore their world. Solve their own problems. Take their lumps when things don’t go so well.

And I like the nomenclature because it’s mildly antagonistic. 😉

It perfectly explains the parenting strategy Shelly and I use. We let them play unsupervised, which often involves wandering around our campground without us in tow. We let them interact with people of all ages in every imaginable setting. We let them make messes and get dirty. We give them the freedom to try new things even if we know they can’t (they often surprise us.) We let them fight their own battles.

We’re here for support if needed, but otherwise let our kids do their own thing. If they encounter a problem, we make them solve  it. Our kids have heard the phrase “Work it out” thousands of times. If they absolutely can’t, we may offer advice. We’re the safety net that assures there’s no lasting harm.

The purpose is simple- we want our kids to develop the skills needed to successfully navigate adulthood. A day will come when we’ll kick them out of the nest. I’ll be damned if I want them flying back home.

But what about boundaries and responsibility?

Our kids have clear boundaries, but they also have the freedom to more or less do as they please within those boundaries. And responsibility? That’s developed through the make a “decision and face the consequences of your actions” process.

[Edit: This section was added after Becky’s comment.]

What about safety?

This is the number one question I receive. Parents worry about the safety of their kids… that’s a given. How do you give kids freedom in this great big evil world we find ourselves in today?

First, by pretty much every objective measure, our world is safer than it was when we were kids (or our parents were kids.) The difference is one of perception. We’re no inundated with news of murder, rape, kidnappings… whatever. If anything, we should feel better about our kids having more freedom than our parents did. Unfortunately, too many parents buy into the notion that would world is a scary, dangerous place.

Second, if our world really were so scary and dangerous, wouldn’t that be an even better reason for kids to learn to survive without parental protection? Greater adversity requires better coping skills.

[end of edit]

The strategy is the exact opposite of the helicopter “I have to protect my kid from everything or else I will feel insanely guilty” approach so many parents use today. These parents want to give their kid every advantage, which ironically leaves them completely unprepared for life outside the womb… er, I mean watchful eye of the parent.

As a teacher, I routinely saw the results of helicopter parenting… and it wasn’t pretty. Kids were on the brink of adulthood but couldn’t do much of anything without parental intervention. Kid failed a test? I could expect an angry call from mom. Shiva forbid she tell her lazy-ass kid to deal with it himself. It was a sad sight.

Give your kids freedom, even if it means they may get hurt, fail, or face other adversity. Bruce Lee said it best:

“Do not pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one.”

As a parent, there’s no need to rely on prayer for your kids to develop strength. Giving them freedom to live their lives will give them the strength to endure a difficult life.

Many of my readers are parents. What do you think? Share your comments!



Be Sociable, Share!
Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Related Posts:


  1. HeatherW
    May 10, 2013

    I watch my kids obsessively if there’s open water around. Drowning is one of the top five ways kids in the US die. Kids drown faster than you would guess.

    Other than that…. I’m pretty lax. Last weekend, my 10 year old thanked me for “never treating her like a baby”.

  2. Franklin Chen
    May 10, 2013

    You might like this post on the subject by a mathematician/mother:

  3. Kate
    May 10, 2013

    I am a personal fan of this. I unfortunately have to implement it in moderation as I just happen to have the kid that has no sense of personal danger and isn’t in a position to learn. It’s an Autism thing.

    Yet, I still try and get him to work things out for himself. The outcome of this type is parenting is that schools can’t deal with it. I have had comments for educational staff is that D will try to sort out a problem by himself and won’t ask for help. Instead of asking for direction, D will just continue on his own track until some comes. I don’t see a problem with this, but the school system and in fact other parents, have huge issues with it.

    I love the fact he is always working ideas out in his head. It’s the most powerful tool he possesses, because added with the childlike attitude that ‘nothing is impossible’ he’s able to think of solutions and questions no one has though of.

  4. Becky Bivens
    May 10, 2013

    I can see that it is of great benefit to not smother your children. But it also scares me in the world we live in now. As long as you know where your children are, and that it is a safe area, go for it. I didn’t ride over my kids constantly, and I think they turned out pretty darned good. Be a leader, not a follower, was what I told them. I can see a huge difference in the little one’s of today. I am torn between the two now. I don’t want anything to happen to my grand babies, but sometimes I think they are too “babied”. You do what you do, it seems to be working for you !

    • Jason
      May 10, 2013

      This was an important question, Becky. I edited the original post to answer it. 😉