Free-Range Parents and Chinese Moms: Where We Agree

Filed under: In The News, Opinions


All week my inbox has have been practically shouting: "Did you see the Tiger Parenting piece? It's like the opposite of Free-Range Kids!"

Except, in part, it isn't.

Free-Range Kids, my book and blog, contends that we don't need to helicopter so much. Our kids can make their own playdates, sandwiches and -- most importantly -- mistakes. A kid who takes the wrong bus and then figures out the way back home is a better kid for it: She goofed, it wasn't the end of the world, she rose to the occasion. Now she's ready for the next thing that looks a little daunting.

Too often, today's kids never get that kind of challenge. We baby them out of fear that they're less safe ("She can't take the bus by herself -- she could be abducted!") and less competent ("He can never figure out anything to do -- that's why I have to play with him!") than we were.
That is not a problem Amy Chua seems to have.

Like her approach or not, she fully believes in her kids. And from what I read in the infamous Wall Street Journal article, her kids rise to the occasion. When her younger daughter bit, hit and cried that she couldn't play a piano piece, Chua forced her to practice until she got it right. And afterward -- since no one called the cops -- far from being upset with her mom, the girl was thrilled with her newfound competence. She was also cuddly cute.

Free-Range Kids doesn't go that same route, to put it mildly, but those of us trying to hover a little less are aiming for the same goal: We want our kids to experience the thrill of doing something significant. The big difference, of course, is that Chua sat on top of her daughter for hours and hours, while Free-Rangers believe in hours and hours of kids doing stuff on their own -- even stuff that will never score them a recital at Carnegie Hall. Even stuff that helicopter parents find too scary. To us, a snow fort is as valuable as a Chopin sonata. Shopping solo for supper equals an A in biology.

Whether or not free-range kids will end up as prodigies (wait -- does anyone end UP a prodigy?), we hope they'll end up motivated and self-reliant -- traits that will serve them at least as well as perfect SATs. Stuart Brown, the granddaddy of research on play, says that when NASA and the Jet Propulsion Lab consider hiring someone, they look for sparkling grades, yes. But they also look for something less common: Time spent, as kids, just tinkering.

In other words, the smartest places want the kids who "wasted time" in their youth doing things just because they found them interesting, fun -- and hard.

And the kids did them on their own.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.