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Is helicopter parenting stunting kids' emotional growth?

Parents who have too much concern over their child's health and well-being may cause them to be more fearful and less creative.
Parents who have too much concern over their child's health and well-being may cause them to be more fearful and less creative.

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Are parents' concerns over children's health and well-being making a culture where kids are less creative and more fearful? That's what some research shows.

Take Two host Alex Cohen talked to Hanna Rosin about her Atlantic Magazine cover story on how overprotection may not be good for kids.


What changed, why and when?

We became preoccupied with safety. Physical safety, emotional happiness. And it’s OK to be concerned about those things, but we became preoccupied with those things, basically to the point that we made all the decisions through that lens. That change happened, basically, between the '70s through the '90s. That’s when we started to perceive the world as a really dangerous place.

That really comes out in the playground. Can you talk about why an American playground looks the way it does today?

There was a case during the '70s that cost a city a lot of money. It was a very tragic case of a toddler who fell off the top of a slide. After that people started to get nervous. There were writers who called all playgrounds death traps. As a result, companies started to homogenize playground equipment. It got a lot more safe, and, as a result, the playground got a bit boring. Kids couldn’t couldn’t do what they needed to do, which was feel excited, feel a certain thrill, feel like they were taking a risk and then mastering that risk.

Why is it important for kids to feel danger?

I think that is growing up. Not to say kids should do dangerous things. But they should feel like they’re doing something dangerous, and then mastering that thing they are doing. And it’s through that mastery is how they get older. Kids no longer go through those stages at all.

Even though women work a lot more than in the '70s, we are spending more time with our kids. The conventional wisdom says this is because the world is a more dangerous place. Is that true?

No, the world is a different place, but it’s not a more dangerous place. When we tell kids don’t talk to strangers, we have in our head these horrible cases of stranger abduction. But those cases are not more common now than they were in the 1970s.

We have a sense that the public space is different. There aren’t moms around in the neighborhood; families are different; there’s a lot more divorces. So we’ve lost the neighborhood as a knitted community. But that’s a big vague change to get your mind around, so we just go to stranger danger.

What should parents be thinking about when we think about protecting our kids?

We shouldn’t go back to the '70s. A lot of people felt neglected in the '70s. I think it’s about re-conceiving your role as a parent. Saying, ‘My role as a parent is not to protect my child every second or optimize safety with every decision but to create opportunity for them to experience things,’ and that’s how we build character in a child.

How do we get everyone on board and find that common ground?

I’m nostalgic for my own child. I’d like to let my child do these things. But all the other parents are going to think I’m nuts. So we have to all turn the ship slowly one by one.

How do we walk the line in keeping our kids safe from danger but teaching them independence and growing in coping skills?

I think you have to worry about safety, but not let safety drive your every decision.