Friday, March 18, 2016

Parents, Helicopter and Otherwise

I am reading and reflecting on the book The Power of Play by David Elkind.

Chapter 4 - Child Play and Parent Angst

We hear a lot today about parents and their investment (or overinvestment) in their children. David Elkind addresses parents in today's society and how things have changed in ways that impact children's lives and their play.

Dr. Elkind notes that parents feel pressure and stress today that contribute to this angst: Am I doing enough for my child? Parents are worried about what others think of their children and their parenting skills. Parents may choose to do something that they don't really believe in...because society or a certain group has labeled that thing as "the right thing to do." They may feel parent peer pressure to do or not do certain things. Because families are smaller, parents are often more invested in each child's activities; they feel responsible for the child's successes and failures. Parents concerns may also be hyped by the discussion of threats in the media. Often the media will overinflate incidents and cause parents to be more concerned about risks to physical or emotional well-being.

The angst that arises from these pressures can lead to hyperparenting, overprotection, and overprogramming. Each of these things impacts a child's relationships and his play. In hyperparenting, children are overly involved in a child's activities. They may try to dictate the child's success and even work to minimize any "negative" experiences in a child's school, sports, or other activity. A child does not have the opportunity to develop skills to deal with issues or failure because parents do it for him (or eliminate the possibility for dealing with it).

Overprotection is a hyperfocus on physical well-being. Parents today are less likely to allow risky play or risky behavior of any type. Children have less free play, less play that is self-directed, more "play" that is controlled by adults. Free play encourages innovation, imagination, and conflict resolution. Overprotection denies these opportunities to children.

Parents want to give children lots of advantages to learn and grow, so they tend to overprogram the child. More and more activities can be added to a child's schedule. While each of these may provide some benefit, they are directed by adults and do not allow the child to play and explore on his own. Too many activities reduce any time for play. And often children are "forced" to continue these activities even if they lose interest or want to stop.

Parenting angst leads to an atmosphere of less free play, less opportunities for children to explore and discover on their own. It also tends to lead to less experiences for children to develop social skills, coping skills, relationship skills.

This chapter helped me think about parents and not just what they do but why. I think we can help parents know they can relax a little. We can encourage parents to do what they know is right for their kids and not worry about what is the "right thing to do." Children will learn; we don't need to force-feed letters and numbers and so forth into them.

I liked this particular story at the beginning of the chapter. A parent came to David Elkind, questioning the play-based approach of her son's classroom. In part, David answered her: "Play is what young children do and, while we adults may be concerned only with an activity's long-term benefits, children are playing for the fun of it."

Play is what kids do. Play is who they are. Play is how they learn and develop. We adults must stay out of the way and not impose our "adult sensibilities" onto the children.

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