Leave Your Cell Phone at Home

Parents need to wean themselves off of the idea that they must be constantly available to their child and vice versa.

Question: What can parents do to be less overbearing?

Lenore Skenazy: You can leave your cell phone at home and so you sort of wean yourself off of the idea that you must be constantly available to your child and vice versa, your child must be constantly reachable by you.  Another tip I give in my book is simply, one of those hours that you’re gonna watch "CSI" with a body dredged out of the swamp, or "Law & Order" with the girl dragged off the street, turn off the TV and spend that hour outside.  You know, walking around your neighborhood, preferable with your kid, to remind yourself that you live in the neighborhood, that’s where you live.  You don’t live in "Law & Order"-ville and "CSI"-ville.  And in fact, I started a correspondence with a guy who started writing on my Web site, who lives in a neighborhood, a nice, quiet Brooklyn neighborhood, where they’re always filming "Law & Order" and it’s so ironic because he loves his neighborhood, 'cause it’s nice and quiet and safe, but if you ever saw it on "Law & Order," you’d think that there’s a murder every week.  So remind yourself about the real world, and also it’s safer.  The more people you meet, the more neighbors you know, the more familiar you and your kid are to the neighborhood, everybody’s safer and connected.  A lot of the "Free Range" message is about creating the community we think was lost.  Well, it’s lost if you don’t go out there, but if you do go out there, you can connect again.  

And that’s why one of the sort of offbeat ideas I also give, tip number three is, when you’re someplace with a bunch of parents, each of them hovering over their own child, the school gate hasn’t opened yet or soccer practice is about to start in maybe five minutes, or you’re at the bus stop, because a lot of parents now drive their children to the bus stop and wait for the bus to come because they’re so afraid of what might happen in that five minutes.  When you’re with a lot of parents, turn to them and say, “You know what?  I’ll watch them.  I’ll watch your kids.”  It’s this mind-blowing idea, because what you’re saying is two things at once.  One is that we don’t all need to be here.  We don’t think that wild banshees are coming, there’s not a twister in the distance that we’re all gonna have to save our kids from.  I think one adult can watch over all these children and they’ll be okay.  And what you’re also saying is, “I don’t think it’s a horrible burden for me to watch your kids.” 

So many times, one of the things that we’re worried about is I don’t want to impose on anyone.  If I’m at the park, I don’t want to ask another lady to watch my kids while I go to the car and get the sippy cups, because that’s too much.  It’s good to ask favors of each other and to offer favors. So you offer the favor, and then if no parent takes you up on it, you say, “OK, well, listen, Mary is staying here and I’m going off to work.”  And then you say, “I know she’ll be safe with you guys.”  So either way, you are almost aggressively saying, "I trust you, I trust this neighborhood.  I trust my child not to run into the street."  And when you start reminding people that this is what people used to do, I think they used to watch out for each other, I think in a lot of other countries, people still do this.  Maybe we can re-knit the kind of community that we all long to live in, and that we all feel is safer for our kids.

Recorded August 17, 2010

Interviewed by Andrew Dermont

Are you an overbearing parent? Author and syndicated columnist Lenore Skenazy has some advice to help you loosen the harmful grip on your child.

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