Hope for the Lazy Parent

What a relief! Smart people say that it is okay to be a lazy parent. I have occasionally used the excuse of fatigue because we have too many children, but now I can justify just letting the kids roam wild because studies say it is better for them  in the long run.
Alison Gopnik, a professor of psychology at the University of California- Berkley has discovered, through her research, that young children learn more from each other than they do from structured adult instruction.  Her assertion is that a child’s brain is wired to develop through free play, and when adults intervene with that process they are actually stunting the growth of the kids.

So, now I have something to cling to when I get the glaring I’m-a-better-mom-than-you looks when I take my kids to the playground.  I let my kids play.  I let them fight (argue) with each other and occasionally with the other kids they meet. They know better than to come whining to me, because my usual response is..”.you guys work it out.”  They have my permission to come get an adult opinion if they have tried all of their strategies first, and there is no middle ground.  I let them lose when they are playing games, and if there is an element that they cannot scale on their own, I will often tell them that if they can’t get up it…it wasn’t meant for them.  I let them make the mistakes that Gopnik argues they are wired to experience.  She has found that the mistakes and the freedom are what makes the connections for kids in their development.  Who knew that the experts were the kids themselves?

I’ve never really been that parent who jumps in and controls a playground conversation, and I have occasionally been annoyed by the hovering parent who does.  I want to tell them, “they’ll work it out, just give it a second.”  Now I know that those parents who jump in are taking a chance to learn away from my kids, and I wonder if I might have to get up off my observatory post to say something; not to the kids, but to the parents.  I hope not!  As  long as there are no punches being thrown and the rocks stay where they are supposed to be, there is no real need for adult involvement, and I hope the word gets out to all the adults that we have scientific permission to get back to hanging on the outskirts.  The kids have got it.  They’ll be fine…no, better than fine…all they need is for us to get out of their way. They need to play, and we need to let them.

6 thoughts on “Hope for the Lazy Parent

  1. Hi Meagan,I so agree that it is important to not always provide the entertainment for the kids and it is a huge relief to give myself that freedom.On the other hand, it is still very fun, and important, to jump in there with them and have those "GEM" moments where you connect with them on a very personal level through play or offering yourself to them completely.My children are in a Charter school whose primary philosophy is to learn through play, of course academics come first though.Nice post!

  2. I absolutely agree! I should have mentioned that I jump in there to play and to BE with my kids as regularly as I can. It usually happens when we are not surrounded by a ton of people, and/or they are not with their friends. Our family time is something separate from friend time, and I am relieved to know that it is okay to let my kids have their freedom with their friends.

  3. I like that. I'm so tired of helicopter parents and children who feel they are entitled to EVERYTHING! My husband feels the same way about kids playing sports too. He misses the days the kids would all get together in someone's backyard and just play a game of football or baseball instead of having parents intervene and structure it and THEN make it competitive instead of fun! Yeesh!

  4. There is an increasingly large body of research suggesting that when children subjected to helicopter parenting arrive at college they are at a disadvantage compared with other kids. They lack social and survival skills, cannot negotiate or problem solve and as a result of constant parental involvement have failed to learn accountability and responsibility. I also recently read about some research done in Japan which confirms that severe helicopter parenting actually stunts development within the brain, most notably reasoning skills.So keep doing what you are doing! The hard part for me as a parent of an only is that she always wants to play with me at home etc not having anyone else to play with, but I do encourage her to play by herself and get creative!

  5. Okay, so now I feel better about the kickball game in my backyard last night. I think all the kids learned A LOT! They were very pissed off at each other, but at least they learned something!

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