The Ponder Effect | How much independence should we give our children?
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How much independence
should we give our children?

We all know the term “helicopter parenting.” Its connotation is negative, but its wellspring was love. As parents, we desperately want to protect our children. The best way to do so, many of us determined, was by hovering over their every move. Unfortunately, that tactic backfired. In our efforts to protect our children, we denied them vital skills such as self-reliance and resilience.

Another term I encountered recently is “free range parenting.” Perhaps, our children are indeed like chickens. They will be healthier if they can roam the fields a bit, maybe even cross the road all by their lonesome. There are inherent dangers with this approach: kids might get hurt, parents might get judged.

I recently left my nine-year-old daughters at home so I could go exercise. They have access to a phone and know not to open the door or cook eggs while I’m gone. Am I a “bad mom” or a “good mom”? Am I being derelict in my duties or giving my children the space to grow and mature?

Summer seems the ripest time to let kids have a little independence. A lot of that is rooted in our own memories of childhood: riding bikes to the corner store, exploring in the parks and woods near our homes, camping out alone in backyards. Are those things safe? How do we know? What do you think is the right amount of independence to give our kids at any given age? What do we stand to gain and lose? What do they stand to gain and lose?

Share your thoughts [All posts are 100% anonymous]

7 Ponderings
  • Anonymous

    June 18, 2018 at 11:26 am

    My grandmother always tells me that the goal in raising kids to get them independent as quickly as possible. There is a lot of truth there, but it’s not that simple. It takes careful discernment to know how much encouragement, discipline, and oversight each child needs. Each child is so different. As parents in this age of mass media, we live with a lot of fear and judgement. We are constantly hearing the horror stories of children drowning, choking and other horrific accidents. While it is healthy to be careful, there is also a very unhealthy mindset that we somehow have control against accidents like those. I believe that mindset perpetuates the parent judgement and gives us an additional complex in hovering/protecting at all costs. I don’t know what that balance is, but I am always trying to remember that there are so many factors outside of our control. At the end of the day, I think we all need more grace and more understanding rather than more judgement. I try to ask myself if my decisions and boundaries are coming from a place of fear of judgement or a place of understanding my child. And that’s the best I can do!

  • Anonymous

    June 20, 2018 at 9:34 pm

    I just listened to a Ted Radio podcast called “Turning Kids into Grownups.” The topics covered included getting kids into college (without sacrificing anyone’s sanity), sex, and what parents in the western world can learn from refugee parents. it was great. The overarching theme was one of trust and mutual respect, an encouragement to be hard on your kids, but also, to love them unconditionally. So, as I think about giving my own children freedom, the thing I cling to is giving them as much as I think they’re ready for, and if they signal to me that they’re not – either by abusing a privilege or by coming to me and saying they need my help or presence – then I’ll tweak it. Every kid is different and can handle varying levels of freedom at varying stages, which is why it’s so hard to see clearly the right balance, and why we open ourselves up to judgment if the freedom we give our kids doesn’t match our friends’.

    Technology is sneaking its way into our kids’ lives earlier and earlier, and I know many parents who believe that giving their kids an iPhone is a gift of freedom or independence. In reality, it limits them – their imaginations, their friend groups, their ability to roam without a parent being able to trace their every move. I’m not saying some kids don’t need to be traced. Some do.

    But I remain unconvinced that a device will provide my kid with the benefits of true freedom which, in my mind, is just shorthand for “to be trusted.” The greatest gift I can give my children is to trust in their nascent integrity, and to offer them little bits of freedom along the way that will eventually lead to kids who feel both fully respected, absolutely free, and tethered enough that they know who to return to when life feels scary or overwhelming.

  • Anonymous

    June 21, 2018 at 1:09 pm

    I think learning to be independent is a progression. For the children and the parents. To me being independent means having confidence in ones self and in ones ability.
    How do kids get that? How can we parents foster that? I think there are different experiences that help a child become independent. The messy part is timing. When is the timing right for this child. But generally i think children learn to be independent…
    By making mistakes, suffering the consequences and learning how to move on.
    By learning how to do things…fix the bike chain, know where to turn off the water under the john, smother a skillet fire with a top, get the fish hook out of a fish or their friend’s hand. And learning what not to do…don’t open the door if Mom isn’t home, don’t get in the car with a friend who has been drinking, don’t wear flip flops around ponies and horses, don’t try to run out the door with the burning skillet.
    By being allowed to make decisions… wear purple stripped pants with the neon green leopard print top, drop a sport their Dad or Mom loves, plan to study for a test during the Super Bowl commercials.
    By having unstructured time alone (no media)…so they can figure out what to do with boredom, think about what has been going on in their world, learn about themselves.
    By understanding that there are rules…Mom and Dad’s, the teacher’s, the camp’s , the climbing wall….and that following the rules is mostly non negotiable.
    By being loved unconditionally.
    Independence is a progression and a foundation.

  • Anonymous

    June 21, 2018 at 2:10 pm

    As much as our God given intuition tells us to give…the greater obstacle is being in a state of peace and presence, so that our intuition is able to speak to us – with clarity. Mothers are so amazing, women are so equipped to know what to do if we just clear the air, quiet comparisons, and listen with the ears of love.

  • Anonymous

    June 21, 2018 at 2:22 pm

    Full Freedom is not the final vision but increasing freedom can be a tool to maturity. The fully mature person chooses a life willingly connected to others, not dependent but interdependent and in voluntary submission to the authority at hand. With this in mind we should raise children to recognize that they have choices not brazen freedoms. Boundaries should widen as children embrace territory well. Shorten boundaries of choices when children are not responsible or respectful of their opportunities.

    I believe that the process is fairly fluid; one child might embrace the progression ; another may need re adjustments repetitively

    Without a full vision of where you are hoping the child reaches at adulthood the amount of freedom given might not achieve the goal- you might be creating an adult who thinks they have the “right” to abuse others as they pursue their own desires.

  • Anonymous

    June 21, 2018 at 3:32 pm

    As much as they can handle without causing significant harm to themselves or others might be a good heuristic.

  • Anonymous

    June 21, 2018 at 5:52 pm

    More, more, more independence than most are getting. We may feel the world is more dangerous but is that actually just because we have more information about dangerous instances versus an increase in danger? I marvel at the idea of my sister and her friend driving a u-haul to NYC from Tennessee in their mid-20’s with just a map and a plan. I marvel at the fact that at my son’s age, I was sneaking out of the house late at night with my friends and roaming the neighborhood. Experiences from independence make us capable. Being lost helps you know how to find your way home or gives you courage to ask the right person for help. Independence as a kid helps you understand that you have your bother’s back; you have your friend’s back. You want them to be okay because if they are okay, you are okay. Independence brings kids together. Independence is where a kid stands up to a bully on the make-shift playground in the neighborhood field when no parents are around. It seems that kids actually don’t crave independence as much as previous generations as their parents are their friends. Go! Get outside and play! Go find some friends and explore life! Be home around dark. I love you.