The “Let Grow” Project

I came across an interesting article on NPR this morning that I wanted to share called

“To Raise Confident, Independent Kids, Some Parents Are Trying to ‘Let Grow'”

In today’s society, the lives of children are often planned down to the minute. They go to school, they go to an afterschool activity, they come home and do homework and maybe have some time to play video games or play on their phones. This is in stark contrast to when I was growing up, where all the neighborhood kids would be playing outside riding bikes or playing on the playground until dusk. Today the term “helicopter parenting” is familiar to almost anyone and the thought behind supervised, structured activities is to give kids exposure to different things while still monitoring them. Unfortunately, these strict schedules may be preventing kids from gaining the kind of skills and confidence that only come with doing things yourself. The NPR article talks about a new movement that is taking place across America called “Let Grow,” which promotes childhood independence and gives families the information they need to push back against a “culture of overprotection.”

Free Range Kids, a group founded by Lenore Skenazy, embraced this philosophy and sought to correct the misconception of childhood dangers: like the fact that childhood abductions and murders are in fact at record lows, even as perceptions of danger have risen. As Skenazy talked about the benefits of giving kids independence, free time, and of self-directed play, she realized just telling the individual parents wasn’t enough. If you’re the only kid on your block riding your bike outside, you’re gonna come back in, because as Skenazy says, “there is somebody to play with if they’re online.” How often do we allow our kids to get sucked into games on their phone or gaming console instead of interacting face-to-face with other kids? Skenazy knew her goal couldn’t be to just change parents’ minds but to change the culture as a whole. Hence, Let Grow was born.

Its methods are simple. It’s reaching out to elementary schools across the country to assign kids the Let Grow project as homework. Kids who participate decide to do something on their own that they haven’t done before-whether it’s taking the dog for a walk down the street, or helping out with dinner, or even going to get the milk a few rows down at the supermarket. One principal’s school in Long Island is participating in the pilot project, and she has already noticed a direct effect in the classroom. “The children were just more self-assured, more confident,” she said. She supports the program and believes it not only helps kids discover skills and abilities they didn’t know they had, but it also introduces what it is like to fail. She contends the failures are equally important because it is “how kids learn to overcome obstacles, try out new ideas, and become resilient.” If these children aren’t given these opportunities to communicate, to collaborate, to problem-solve, she contends, “then how can they be successful in global society?”

Psychologist Dr. Peter Gray from Boston College focuses on child play and agrees that erring on the side of caution isn’t helping children. Over the past 50 years, we’ve seen a decline in children’s freedom and an increase in responses to depression and anxiety scales. While he notes it is just a correlation, it doesn’t correlate with economic cycles, wars, or divorce rates, but correlates very well with the decline of children’s freedom to play.

This burgeoning idea begs the question of whether we’re holding the reins a little too tightly. It’s important for kids to explore for themselves what things work and what things don’t. If they are sheltered as children, how can they be expected to behave properly when they go off to college and experience freedom for the first time?

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