- Education & Catastrophe
- Simple Fix To Help Anxious Kids
Simple Fix To Help Anxious Kids
Education & Catastrophe 70
Image Credit: Yann Bastard for The New York Times
Hey y’all! This is John.
This newsletter is about human flourishing. Ostensibly it’s about better parenting and fixing education, but ultimately what I really care about is helping young people flourish.
In this issue, we discuss how giving kids more freedom can help them avoid anxiety issues. Covered in this issue:
Letting kids do more on their own
Laying the foundation for kids to become resilient
Let’s dive in!
As parents to five kids, my wife and I don’t have a choice but to let go and leave the kids to their own devices whenever possible. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day for us to be helicopter parents watching over each child every step of the way. We parent the way we do out of necessity.
A New York Times op-ed yesterday suggests that kids are growing up so overprotected they’re scared of the world. In other words, my wife’s and my laissez-faire style of parenting actually benefits our kids more than we realise.
Our thesis is that a primary cause of the rise in mental disorders is a decline over decades in opportunities for children and teens to play, roam, and engage in other activities independent of direct oversight and control by adults.
According to a paper published earlier this year in The Journal of Pediatrics, considerable research in Europe focused on children’s independent mobility (CIM) - defined as children’s freedom to travel in their neighbourhood or city without adult accompaniment - has revealed significant declines in CIM, especially between 1970 and 1990. This corresponds with a severe decline in children’s mental health.
Play is a major category of independent activity, especially for young children. Research, as well as everyday observation, has shown that play is a direct source of children’s happiness. A common definition of play favoured by researchers is that it is “activity initiated and directed by the players themselves, not by an outside authority.”
Children’s independent activity also helps build mental capacities and attitudes that foster future well-being. Play and other independent activities, where children make their own decisions and solve their own problems, help develop a strong internal locus of control (LOC).
Internal LOC refers to a person’s tendency to believe they have control over their life and can solve problems as they arise, in contrast to external LOC, which is a tendency to believe their experiences are ruled by circumstances beyond their control.
A low internal LOC is highly predictive of anxiety and/or depression in both children and adults.
If kids are suffering because parents are doing too much for them, how do we let kids do more on their own?
As if keeping kids under lock and key and helmet and cell phone and nanny and surveillance is the right way to rear kids. It’s not. It’s debilitating — for us and for them.
The problem with this everything-is-dangerous outlook is that over-protectiveness is a danger in and of itself. A child who thinks he can’t do anything on his own eventually can’t.
The Free-Range Kids movement has since grown into Let Grow, a national nonprofit promoting childhood independence and resilience.
Since I started writing this newsletter a year and a half ago, I have shared my own parenting journey trying to get my five kids to become adaptable, resilient, independent and self-directed young people. No Instructions is about letting kids figure things out on their own, using the imagination and creativity they have in spades. Unstructured Play is about giving kids the time and space for child-initiated, open-ended play. Playful Learning Promotes 21st Century Skills is about adopting playful learning principles at home with your child. I wrote about letting my two older kids fly solo to Berlin and letting the kids play in Tokyo, Chiba and Karuizawa.
Besides articles about my parenting journey, I have also written about how young people are feeling restless and lost, and how they are feeling anxious when they should be flourishing.
There are no guarantees my kids won’t have anxiety issues at some point in their lives. I can only hope that my wife and I have done enough to help them thrive and flourish. It really isn’t that hard. All we have to do is let go a little and let our kids do more on their own.
If you like to get started on giving your kids more freedom and letting them play, sign up for Saturday Kids Unplugged Karuizawa for 3 days of being in nature, exploring, and free-range play.