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Recently, we hosted a group of elementary kids. It was so much fun. They got to feed the animals, collect eggs, milk the goat, learn how to make mozzarella cheese, harvest pistachios from the tree, pet the kittens, and so much more.
While everyone seemed to love the trip, the teachers were curious about the free time the students had. We feel strongly about the importance of free time. Here at Flip Flop Ranch, we believe that free play is important for the proper development of children. Plus if you want your child to experience what real farm life is like then that includes plenty of time for children to explore the world around them, play in the dirt, skin a knee, collect bugs, chase a chicken and so on because that is what real farm kids do.
I grew up in the 1980s and life was very different back then compared to a kid’s life today. When we got home from school, we had to do a small amount of homework and then we were kicked outside to play. Rather than our parents being worried, if we dared come home before the streetlights came on or the sun began to set, we would be made to do chores. We were not supervised, we had no cell phones, our parents never checked up on us. We just went out and played and had a great time. Sometimes we got into trouble or even dangerous situations like the one time we were playing in some drainpipes and there was a hive of bees inside it. Boy was that exciting!
Helicopter parents are parents that constantly hover over their children and don’t participate in what psychologists call trustful parenting, in other words these parents don’t believe in children’s ability to handle situations in life. I know some of you out there are having heart palpitations just hearing about what me and my friends got up to when we were kids. As a matter of fact, nowadays my parents would probably be arrested for the way they raised us. Some parents have been; even facing felony charges of neglect for leaving children as old as 12 to play at a park.
Sadly, much of the population agrees with this. A recent poll shows that 68% of Americans agree with creating a law to prohibit children nine and under from playing at the park and supervised. An additional 43% feel the same way about 12-year-olds playing at the park – even though most of them no doubt did the same thing as kids.
Likewise, schools force students to sit still all day learning about subjects that are rendered boring and meaningless. Many schools have eliminated recess. Is it any wonder that kids can’t sit still, are bored and act up?
Consequences of helicopter parenting
What most of us did as children is no longer normal. Only 13% of children walk to school and only 6% of kids ages 9 through 13 play outside. Most parents report fears of their child being kidnapped even though the crime rate is lower than when most of these parents were growing up and safely playing outside.
The school system is terrified of students performing poorly on standardized exams and parents are alternately terrified of their children being murdered or not getting into college. We compare our kids as subpar to international schooling systems such as Japan’s, although Japanese students suffer from high anxiety, high dropout rates and high suicide rates. Is pushing our kids to this degree worth it?
This helicopter parent mentality has been shown in a recent study to have terrible long-term consequences for children. College students with helicopter parents had a hard time believing in themselves and in their own ability to accomplish goals. They were more dependent on others and had a hard time coping with stress. They also had lower values such as responsibility and conscientiousness.
Stress-related mental disorders in young people have skyrocketed over the past 50 years. Anxiety and depression have increased 5 to 8 times and the suicide rate for kids under 15 has quadrupled. Childhood has become a time not for learning and developing, but for resume building.
Children need to play and they need to do things without an adult hovering. Just like animals, humans are biologically designed to play. Free play especially is important and is a primary way that children learn to control their lives, deal with relational situations, solve problems, learn to cope with stress and become emotionally resilient beings.
Children need freedom in order to develop appropriately and no toys or “quality time” can compensate for taking away this freedom. Most of life’s important lessons were learned through experiencing life, not through sitting in a classroom. If we don’t let our children experience life, if we don’t let them take risks, it is guaranteed that they will be hurt. If we give our children the freedom to live their lives, there is only a small chance that something might go wrong and unlimited benefits.
This week, try giving your kids a taste of what a farm kid’s life is like. Encourage them to do something on their own and let them develop into independent, unique and strong individuals.