Why Do We Judge Parents For Putting Kids At Perceived — But Unreal — Risk?
What do you think developmental psychology can contribute to the debate over free-range parenting?
Ashley: I think that developmental psychologists need to start talking about the costs of never allowing children to take a risk. People seem to make this calculation where they say: “Well, even though the chances of anything bad happening are small, there’s no harm in keeping an eye on the kids.” I think what developmental psychologists can say is: That’s mistaken — there is real harm in keeping an eye on the kids, if you’re keeping an eye on them every minute of every day. You know, psychologists study this thing called “self-efficacy” — it refers to a person’s confidence in their own ability to handle whatever comes up and succeed in a variety of situations, and it’s really important. But if kids are never allowed to take any risks or have any independence at all, they can’t develop self-efficacy. They can’t become adults who are ready to deal with problems and navigate the world.
Barbara: Exactly. For example, last summer my younger son (then 10) went to a half-day archery camp about a mile from our house. He rode his bike to and from the camp, and it was a really great experience for him. One day when he got home, he told me with great pride that his bike had broken, but he had fixed it. What happened was this: As he started climbing the steep hill home from camp, he downshifted too quickly and the chain fell off the bike. He said he thought about going back to the camp to borrow a counselor’s cellphone to call me, “But then I thought that even if you drove there, my bike wouldn’t fit in the car, so we would still need a way to get the bike home.” So he turned the bike upside-down, looked at it for a long time, and figured out how to put the chain back on. And then he rode the bike home. He was really, really proud of himself, and I was really proud of him, too. This summer, he signed up for the same camp and was planning to ride his bike again. But he couldn’t because this year, new camp rules say that kids under 12 have to be dropped off and picked up by a parent. I think that’s a shame. It’s really a lost opportunity to develop a little independence and responsibility.