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Free-Range Vs. Helicopter: What's Best For Kids And What Works For Parents?

May 5, 2015 1:07 p.m.

GUESTS:

Darlene Sweetland, co-author, "Teaching Kids to Think: Raising Confident, Independent & Thoughtful Children in an Age of Instant Gratification"

Jennifer Coburn, author, "We'll Always Have Paris: A Mother/Daughter Memoir"

Related Story: Free-Range Vs. Helicopter: What's Best For Kids And What Works For Parents?

Transcript:

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

AT ONE SKIT, HE SAYS, IN MY DAY, NOBODY DROVE US TO SCHOOL, WE WALKED 15 MILES IN THE SNOW, UPHILL, BOTH WAYS. A MOVEMENT TO DEVELOP MORSEL F ALLIANCE FOR TODAY'S KIDS HAD BEEN IN THE NEWS RECENTLY. IT IS CALLED FREE RANGE PARENTING. ALLOWING THEIR KIDS WALKING AROUND THE NEIGHBORHOOD BY THEMSELVES. IS THIS A GOOD THING FOR KIDS OR DOES IT EXPOSE THEM TO DANG TOO YOUNG IN AGE. JOINING ME IS DOCTOR MARLIN. SHE'S COAUTHOR OF TEACHING KIDS TO THINK RAISING INDEPENDENT STUDENTS. DARLENE, WELCOME TO THE PROGRAM.
THANK YOU.
AND JOINING ME IS JENNIFER COBURN. A MOTHER AND DAU MEMOIR. JENNIFER, WELCOME BACK.
THANK YOU.
LET ME FLUSH OUT THAT STORY, SOMEONE CALLED 911 WHEN THEY SAW THE KID, 10-YEAR-OLD GIRL AND HER BROTHER 6-YEAR-OLD, WALKING ALONE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD. THE POLICE CAME AND THEY ACCUSED OF UNSUBSTANTIAL ABUSE. AND IT HAPPENED AGAIN FROM A PARK ABOUT A MILE FROM THEIR HOME. DARLENE, LET'S GET YOUR REACTION FROM THIS PARTICULAR INCIDENT. IT SEEMS LIKE MANY PEOPLE TO BE AN OVER REACTION BY AUTHORITIES.
EVERY PARENT HAVE TO MAKE THEIR OWN CONSID DECISIONS AS IT RELATE TO THEIR KIDS. PARENTING HAD A LOT TO DO WITH ASSESSING THE SKILLED LEVEL OF THE CHILD AND THE SAFETY OF THE ENVIRONMENT BEFORE MAKING DECISION FOR THEIR KIDS TO GO OUT AND BE INDEPENDENT FOR THE COMMUNITY. THAT KID IS A LITTLE BIT DIFFICULT TO ASSESS AND I DON'T KNOW ALL THE DETAILS OF IT. I AM ALSO UNDER THE UNDERSTANDING THAT THERE IS A LAW IN THAT STATE OF THE SUPERVISION OF CHILDREN IN A PARTICULAR AGE. THE POLICE DEPARTMENT WAS REQUIRED TO RESPOND TO THAT BASED ON THAT. SO THEIR DECISIONS TWOFOLD, ONE IS IT SAFE FOR OUR CHILDREN TO INDEPENDENTLY WALK DOWN TO THE PARK IN OUR NEIGHBORHOOD WITH THEIR SKILLS. AND TWO IS IS IT FOLLOWING THE LAW OF YOUR COMMUNITY?
JENNIFER, SHOULD THOSE KIDS WALKING ALONE IN THE AREA BE CONSIDERED DANGEROUS FOR THOSE CHILDREN?
I THINK IT CAN BE POTENTIALLY DANGEROUS, ALTHOUGH I WISH IT WAS NOT.
I WISH WE LIVE IN A WORLD WHERE WE CAN CREATE 100% SAFE ENVIRONMENT TO ROAM FREE. FOR ME AS LONG AS THERE IS AS ONE AND A MILLION CHANCE OF ANYTHING THAT HAPPEN TO MY DAUGHTER, IT IS BEYOND MY COMFORT LEVEL. WITH THAT SAID, I DON'T HAVE ANY PROBLEM WITH PEOPLE MAKING THAT CHOICE. THESE FOLKS IN MARYLAND SEEMS TO HAVE THOUGHT OUT WITH THEIR POSITION TAKING SAFETY PRECAUTIONS. THE DRAW BACK FOR OUR FAMILY THAT I WOULD BE SO NERVOUS ALL THE TIME THAT I WOULD GET NOTHING DONE. THAT'S WHY IT IS NOT RIGHT FOR US.
BASICALLY, YOU ARE NOT OPPOSE TO IT BUT EMOTIONALLY, YOU ARE NOT ABLE TO IMAGINE YOURSELF DOING THIS KIND OF THING.
I CANNOT IMAGINE IT. I FELT MY DAUGHTER WAS MOST SAFE WHEN I WAS PREGNANT WITH HER. I ALWAYS KNEW WHERE SHE WAS AND I HAD NO WORRIES. BUT, I DO INTELLECTUALLY SEE THAT THERE ARE REAL BENEFITS AND REAL SKILLS THAT PARENTS HAVE OR GOING TO GET THAT MY CHILD WHO'S A LITTLE MORE CUDDLED WON'T. MY CHILD ARE GOING TO HAVE SOME SKILLS THAT OTHER KIDS WON'T. MY HOPE IS THEY'LL LEARN FROM EACH OTHER.
RIGHT.
MORE COMMUNITY.
NOW, BACK TO SOMETHING THAT YOU WERE SAYING DARLENE, WE ASKED THE SAN DIEGO COUNTY WHAT THEIR STANDARDS MAYBE TO A 6-YEAR-OLD AND A 10-YEAR-OLD WALKING ALONE AND CHILD WELFARE SERVICES GAVE US A STATEMENT. THEY SAY THEY'RE UNABLE TO COMMENT ON WHAT ACTION LAW ENFORCEMENT WOULD TAKE IF CHILDREN WERE SEEN WALKING ALONE IN THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA. THERE IS NO LEGAL AGE FOR A CHILD TO BE HOME ALONE OR TO WALK ALONE WITHOUT AN ADULT. I DIDN'T KNOW THAT. THAT'S INTERESTING. I WONDER IF YOU CAN TAKE US BACK TO THE PARENTING STYLE OF THE PAST. MOST OF US ADULTS CAN REMEMBER SPENDING A LOT OF TIMES OUTSIDE WITHOUT THEIR PARENTS
ABSOLUTELY, PEOPLE OF MY GENERATION AND PAST GENERATION, WE ALWAYS USE THE PHRASE, WELL, COME HOME WHEN THE STREET LIGHTS COME ON. THAT'S NOT WHAT'S HAPPENING ANYMORE AND ANYMORE, KIDS AND TEENS IN THIS GENERATION ARE GETTING FEWER OPPORTUNITIES TO BE IN THE COMMUNITY AND INDEPENDENTLY FIGURE THINGS OUT AND SOLVE PROBLEMS AND DEAL WITH UNEXPECTED OUTCOMES. AND, THE RESULTS OF THAT IS THAT THEY'RE LOSING A LOT OF OPPORTUNITIES TO PRACTICE SOLVING CRITICAL LIFE SKILLS THAT THEY'RE GOING TO NEED. AND, HEARING MOM AND DAD TELLING WHAT'S APPROPRIATE IN THE COMMUNITY IS MUCH DIFFERENT THAN THEM PRACTICING IT ON THEIR OWN AND BEING AWARE OF ALL OF THE DIFFERENT FACTORS.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE REASONS OF SOME OF THAT STYLE PARENTING CHANGED?
IT IS TWOFOLD, PART OF IS IS THE INTERNET. EVERYTHING IS SO PUBLICIZED THAT IF THERE IS ONE INCIDENT OF WHERE A CHILD WAS IN AN UNSAFE SITUATION, THE ENTIRE COUNTRY HEARS ABOUT THAT. EVEN IF IT IS A ONE IN A MILLION CHANCE, IT SEEMS VERY BIG AND THAT SCARES PARENTS. IT SCARES ME AS A PARENT. IT MAKES ME ANXIOUS AND WE WANT TO PROTECT OUR KIDS ALL THE TIME. THE OTHER FACTOR IS THAT IN OUR CULTURE AND COMMUNITY, KIDS ARE SO OVER SCHEDULED. THAT A LOT OF THEM DON'T HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO HAVE THE UNSTRUCTURED TIME TO GO OUT AND PLAY AND DO WHAT THEY WANT.
IT HAD SOMETHING TO DO WITH FAMILY SIZE AS WELL. BECAUSE IF THERE ARE A LOT OF KIDS, YOU KNOW, IT IS ALMOST AN IMPOSSIBILITY FOR PARENTS TO KEEP TRACK OF ALL OF THEM AND THEY RELY TO THE LARGER COMMUNITY TO KEEP TRACK OF THE KIDS. AND HOVERING OVER THEIR INDIVIDUAL ONES.
YOU HEARD THE PHRASE ALL THE TIME, OH, DON'T WORRY ABOUT IT, HE'S THE SECOND CHILD OR THIRD CHILD. THEIR RESILIENT AND THEY BUILT IT UP BY NOW.
THAT'S A PHRASE YOU USE TO DEFINE PARENTS WHO ARE CONSTANTLY HOVERING THEIR CHILDREN. NOW, JENNIFER, YOU SAY YOU RAISED YOUR DAUGHTER KATIE MUCH DIFFERENTLY THAN YOU WERE RAISED GROWING UP IN NEW YORK, WAS THAT A CONSCIOUS DECISION OF YOURS?
YES, IT WAS A CONSCIOUS DECISION, REALLY, I JUST FOLLOWED MY INSTINCTS, I LOVED THE WAY I WAS RAISED. WE DIDN'T CALL IT FREE RANGE PARENTING BACK ON. WE WERE JUST KIDS ON THE STREETS OF NEW YORK CITY. I MEAN, I WALKED THE SCHOOL ALON 6-YEAR-OLD WITH A FRIEND IN 3RD GRADE AND WE GOT MUGGED BUT WE ALSO GOT A LOT OF GOOD EXPERIENCES AND SAFE RETURNING HOME. I DID NOT DECIDE TO PARENT A CERTAIN WAY, I JUST DID WHAT FELT RIGHT TO US.
WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOURSELF AS A HELICOPTER PARENT?
I WOULD NOT BUT OTHER PEOPLE WOULD. I WOULD NOT DISAGREE WITH THEM. I THINK FAR TOO MANY PEOPLE WHO KNOW ME ARE GOING TO BE LISTENING TO THE SHOW AND WOULD LAUGH OUT LOUD IF I TRY TO DENY IF I WAS SOMEONE OF A HELICOPTER. PROBABLY ON AN EIGHT ON A TEN SCALE.
[ LAUGHTER ]
YEAH, AND IN SAYING THAT I AM NOT ADVOCATING FOR HELICOPTER PARENTING. AND I DON'T THINK THAT EVERY PARENT SHOULD DO THAT. I AM JUST COPYING TO WHAT IS MY STYLE AND WHO I AM AND I AM NOT GOING TO FIGHT AGAINST THE GRAIN OF WHO I AM. BECAUSE I THINK THAT CREATES A LOT OF BUMPS ALONG THE ROAD. IT IS BETTER TO OWN IT AND WORK WITH THEM
DARLENE, THE TERM HELICOPTER PHRASE MEANS BEING MORE WITH YOUR KIDS THAN BEING OUTSIDE.
DO YOU SEE THAT IN YOUR PRACTICE?
DEFINITELY, WE TALK ABOUT IT IN OUR BOOK AND PARENT TRAPS AND PARENT FALLING IN THE TRAP OF RESCUING THEIR KIDS. AND THE RESULTS OF THAT IS THAT KIDS NEVER GET THE OPPORTUNITY TO FIX THOSE PROBLEMS ON THEIR OWN. WHEN A CHILD MAKES A MISTAKE AND THEN THEY HAVE TO SIT BACK AND CRITICALLY FIGURE IT OUT AND THINK OF THE DIFFERENT OPTIONS AND THEN THEY'RE ALLOWED TO RESOLVE THAT MISTAKE ON THEIR OWN. THAT'S THE BEST GIFT YOU CAN GIVE KIDS BECAUSE IT GIVES THEM THE SENSE OF CONFIDENCE. THEY'RE GOING TO BE MAKING MISTAKES FOR THE REST OF THEIR LIVES. WE ALL DO AND THERE IS ALWAYS BUMPS ALONG THE ROAD AND BEING ABLE TO TEACH THEM THEY HAVE THE CONFIDENCE TO FIGURE OUT THE ALTERNATIVES AND THE SOLUTIONS HELPS THEM GO OFF IN ADULTHOOD WITH A WHOLE LOT OF CONFIDENCE.
DARLENE, HOW MUCH WOULD THIS BE SORT OF MIDDLE CLASS OR AN UPPER MIDDLE CLASS PHENOMENA, THE WHOLE IDEA OF BEING DEEPLY INVOLVED IN YOUR CHILDREN'S LIVES.
I DO THINK THERE IS A LEVEL OF THAT. PART OF THAT IS THE CONVERSATION OF HIGHER EDUCATION. YOU KNOW TO GET IN TO A GOOD COLLEGE OR THE BEST COLLEGE AND PARENTS ARE TRYING TO PUMP UP THEIR KIDS ACADEMIC RESUME TO GIVER THEM EVERY OPPORTUNITY POSSIBLE TO GET IN THE BEST COLLEGE, NOT NECESSARILY THE COLLEGE THAT'S RIGHT FOR THEIR CHILD. AND I THINK FOR FAMILIES OF ALL ECONOMIC STATUS, THE KEY IS GET THEM IN THE RIGHT APPROPRIATE FIT FOR THEM AND NOT NECESSARILY LEVELS. THERE IS A BIG PUSH TO ENROLL THEM IN EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES SO THEY DO HAVE FINANCES TO DO CLUB SPORTS BECAUSE IT IS WAY MORE EXPENSIVE THAN REC SPORTS. I FEEL THERE IS A HUGE PRESSURE ON PARENTS TO PROVIDE ALL OF THOSE THINGS AND THAT CAN DEFINITELY PLAY INTO THE SOCIO ECONOMIC STATUS.
SHE WRITES THAT AFTER HER KIDS WERE PICKED UP BY AUTHORITIES, THEY WERE ASKED BY SOCIAL WORKERS WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF SOME BAD MAN GRABBED YOU. YOU KNOW, DANIELLE, HOW DO YOU TEACH CHILDREN TO BE CAUTIOUS THE WAY THEY SHOULD BE WITHOUT SCARING THEM, PERHAPS A STATEMENT LIKE THAT WOULD DO.
DEFINITELY. YOU KNOW THE TIME THAT A BAD MAN WOULD GRAB THEM IS SUCH A SMALL PERCENT THAT WHEN WE WORK WITH KIDS, WE ACTUALLY TALK TO THEM ABOUT LOOKING SAFE PEOPLE TO TALK TO OR UNSAFE, SOMEONE WHO THEY MAY NOT KNOW. RATHER THAN DON'T TALK TO STRANGER KIND OF IDEA. IF YOU GO UP AND TALK LIBRARY "BAY AREA BARGAINS", THAT'SN LIBRARLIBRARIAN, THAT'S A STRANGER. PICKING UP COUPE US AND INDICATING SOMETHING THAT'S UNSAFE AND FIGURERING OUT WAY TO AVOID THEM AND GET TO SAFETY.
YOU KNOW, JENNIFER, YOU MADE A STATEMENT A WHILE AGO THAT I THOUGHT WAS GREAT, YOU KNOW, YOU HOPED THAT AS KIDS THAT ARE REALLY CLUSTERED GROWING UP AND AS KIDS WHO ALLOWED TO ROAM FREELY, YOU HOPE THEY HELP EACH OTHER WITH VARIOUS SKILLS. YOU ALSO WRITTEN ABOUT YOUNG ADULTS WHO HAVE NOT BEEN RAISED TO BE INDEPENDENT AND HOW THEY ARE RELYING ON THEIR PARENTS WHEN AT AN AGE THEY SHOULD NOT BE.
RIGHT, WHEN I WAS WRITING THE PIECE FOR THE UNION TRIBUNE, I WAS OUT WITH DINNER FOR SOME GIRLFRIENDS AND THE TOPIC OF FREE RANGING PARENTS COME UP. THE UNANIMOUSLY PARENTS SUPPORT OF THE CONCEPT ESPECIALLY THE ONES WHO DID NOT ADOPT THAT ST THEY SAID, MY SON CALLED ME BECAUSE HIS PHONE BATTERY WAS RUNNING OUT AND HE HAD NO IDEA WHAT TO DO AND IF ON CUE, THAT SON TEXTED AND ASKED IF THE MOM IS GOING TO BE HOME IN TIME TO COOK DINNER. SO YEAH, THAT'S THE DOWNSIDE. BUT, REALLY IN EFRL CHOICE WE EVERY CHOICE WE MAKE AS PARENTS, THERE IS A DOWNSIDE, AS A PARENT, I AM NOT SHOOTING FOR PERFECTION. I CANNOT GIVE MY CHILD EVERY SINGLE EXPERIENCE, I THINK I WOULD DRIVE MYSELF CRAZY IF I TRY TO. WHAT WE TRY TO DO IN OUR HOUSE IS HONOR WHO WE ARE AND OWN OUR STUFF AND NOT JUDGE EACH OTHER FOR IT. LET US BE. I MEAN MY DAUGHTER LOVES THAT CAT STEVEN'S SONG, IF YOU WANT TO BE FREE, BE FREE. YOU KNOW--
LAUGH LAUGH [ LAUGHTER ]
YOU KNOW, IT IS KIND OF HOW WE LIVE. IS SHE MISSING OUT ON SOMETHING ON HAVING SOMEONE OF A HELICOPTER MOM, LIKELY, PROBABLY AND DEFINITELY.
LET ME ASK YOU, LET ME GO TO SOMETHING YOU SAID EARLIER, TOO. DESPITE LOWER CRIME STATISTICS, THERE ARE THIS STRONG PERCEPTION THAT YOU WERE TALKING ABOUT THAT THE WORLD IS A DANGEROUS PLACE FOR KIDS AND MORE DANGEROUS THAN IT USED TO BE. IS THERE ANYWAY CONSIDERING THAT WE HAVE THE FACTS AND FIGURES TO SHOW THAT IT KIND OF IS NOT. IS THERE ANYWAY THAT YOU THINK THAT PERCEPTION MAYBE TURNED AROUND?
WELL, I THINK THAT WOULD BE ASKING A LOT, I THINK THAT WOULD BE ASKING PEOPLE RULE OVER PERCEPTION. I KNOW THE FACT 30 YEARS AGO IT WAS A FAR MORE DANGEROUS WORLD THAN IT IS NOW. KIDS WERE SAFER THAN THEY WERE IN OUR CHILDHOOD. EMOTIONALLY THAT ONE AND A MILLION IS TOO GREAT OF A RISK FOR ME. SO, I AM FULLY SUPPORT OF A PARENT WHO MAKES THE CHOICE OF FREE RANGE PARENT AND I SEE A LOT OF BENEFITS IN IT BUT NOT FOR US.
DARLENE, YOU MUST SEE PARENTS GRAPPLING WITH THIS ALL THE TIME.
ABSOLUTELY, I CANNOT TELL YOU THE NUMBER OF PARENTS COME IN WITH THEIR TEENAGERS AND THEY FINALLY HAVE FREEDOM FOR THE FIRST TIME. THEY HAVE THEIR DRIEFRNS DRIVER'S LICENSE AND THEY'RE OUT AND GIVEN A KEY TO A CAR AND TAKEN OFF AND THEIR PARENTS COME IN, SAYING I DON'T UNDERSTAND, THEY'RE GETTING TICKS AND MAKING ALL THESE TERRIBLE DECISIONS AND LETTING THEIR FRIENDS RIDING THE CAR AND I DON'T UNDERSTAND. THEY NEVER HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO BE INDEPENDENT AND PRACTICE USING GOOD JUDGMENT AND MAKING LITTLE KIDS' MISTAKES AND GIVE FIGURING OUT WHAT TO DO. IN FACT, THEY NEVER HAD THE PRACTICE
I AGREE WITH YOU, MY DAUGHTER DID NOT HAVE AS MUCH PRACTICE IN MAKING MISTAKES AS OTHERS HAVE. SHE COMES HOME WHEN I TELL HER TO AND SHE'S REALLY A DELIGHT FULL KID THAT ANY MOM WOULD BE PROUD TO HAVE AS A DAUGHTER.
WE ARE GOING TO SEE HOW THIS PLAY OUT. I WANT TO THANK YOU BOTH OF YOU VERY, VERY MUCH, JENNIFER AND DARLENE. THANK YOU BOTH VERY MUCH.
THANK YOU, MAUREEN.