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!