Want successful kids? Let them play.

boys playing outside
© K Martinko -- Slippery rocks, deep water and stormy weather may seem like a disaster in the making, but it's building character!

Overprotective parenting is destroying kids' chances at success in life.

Lenore Skenazy has done it again. The founder of the Free Range Kids blog has written yet another brilliantly scathing critique of modern parenting, in which she links hyper-protective parenting to the overly-fragile young people now venturing into the world, incapable of handling themselves, navigating relationships, and meeting basic adult milestones.

College students are showing "a decline in resilience," and calling emergency counselling services twice as much in the past five years, often for reasons as questionable as finding a mouse in their dorm room (and needing police to set a trap) and having an argument with a roommate. While Skenazy is clear that breaking down the stigma associated with mental health is a good thing, it's problematic that lacking basic 'adulting' skills is so accepted. This is something of which young people should not be proud.

Parents are to blame for this, having raised them in a "participation-trophy" culture, where kids are taught to look for applause and approval in everything they do and are given participation trophies in order to avoid the disappointment of not winning.

Skenazy thinks it all comes down to play. Play is the cornerstone of childhood. Play teaches children how to become adults. When we, as parents and teachers and policy-makers and nosy neighbors, inhibit children's free play by over-scheduling their lives, prioritizing organized sports, or simply hovering nearby, we actually decrease their chances at success in life.

"All mammals play. It is a drive installed by Mother Nature. Hippos do backflips in the water. Dogs fetch sticks. And gazelles run around, engaging in a game that looks an awful lot like tag. Why would they do that? They're wasting valuable calories and exposing themselves to predators. Shouldn't they just sit quietly next to their mama gazelles, exploring the world through the magic of PBS Kids?"

Children need to be let out of their protective boxes. They need to be allowed to roam neighborhoods with friends. They need to be left at home alone, given errands to run at the store and chores to complete. They need to be tossed into groups of mixed-age kids and left to figure things out.

"Without adults intervening, the kids have to do all the problem solving for themselves, from deciding what game to play to making sure the teams are roughly equal. Then, when there's an argument, they have to resolve it themselves. That's a tough skill to learn, but the drive to continue playing motivates them to work things out. To get back to having fun, they first have to come up with a solution, so they do... These are the very skills that are suddenly in short supply on college campuses."

Skenazy's perspective is strongly supported by statistics that show the U.S. is safer now than ever. The crime rate is where it was in 1963, which means that "most of today's parents grew up playing outside when it was more dangerous than it is today." Everyone benefits from this. The kids have more fun. And the parents get the satisfaction of watching their kids grow up, mature, and tackle challenges head on.

"When we don't let our kids do anything on their own, we don't get to see just how competent they can be—and isn't that, ultimately, the greatest reward of parenting?"

Read the whole article here.

Related Content on Treehugger.com