Escaping Supervision

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Sometimes kids need “No parents allowed.”

Writers of children’s books have always struggled with a challenge: how to get rid of the parents.

Have you ever noticed how many children’s books feature orphans? Now authors have a new layer of challenge: how to get rid of cell phones and other technology tethers. How can a child have an adventure when she is too supervised?

Unsupervised time and space is rare these days, but that’s where so much growing, learning and discovery takes place. And yes, misadventure. Kids need ample misadventures to understand the world and its thorny side, too. That’s why authors try every trick they know to get kids to stand alone, without parents or cell phones beside them to prop them up.

It’s hard to think of a children’s book where the parents have a main role. Children are either orphans or are whisked away to a magic land. Kids in Narnia are wartime evacuees. Kids in The Penderwicks have a mother who’s dead and a father who is absent-minded. Some children are given surrogate parents – Charlie gets Grandpa Joe in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – since aunts and grandparents tend to allow kids greater freedom. As for technology, authors throw cell phones from trains, drain batteries and resort to time travel to eliminate that crutch.

Kids desperately need unsupervised time in real life. Time to play where parents can’t see them. Time to talk to friends without adults listening. As they grow, kids need an ever-expanding range of unsupervised space. For young kids, this means playing alone in the next room or in the front yard. For older kids, the range may be the neighborhood block or local park. Soon it means the town.

Technology extends the parental reach into children’s private time. Their movements and very conversations are tracked. They are expected to be “on call” to their parents night and day. Besides being obtrusive, this constant attachment can stunt kids. Each generation needs time to figure things out, make mistakes, get a bit lost, and rely on themselves to sort out problems.

That’s hard when adult help is hovering, only a phone call away. Kids need to rely on their own resources. Their first instinct should be: what can I do? Not: Dad! Mom! Besides, it’s safer, too.

When we put risk and safety into children’s hands, they tend to perform less risky behaviors. Research from Adventure playgrounds shows that accidents go down when kids are allowed to take risks in their play. They learn to make choices. Learn to judge risks and evaluate their limits.

Adventure should not just be for storybook characters. Where can you add some degree of adventure to children’s lives?

What level of adventure and non-supervision are you comfortable with? Are you letting your child do things you did at the same age? Is there any training you need to do first before letting her explore?

More on RISK and its many benefits in childhood in the sequel to It’s OK Not to Share, coming in March 2016.

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3 Responses to Escaping Supervision

  1. Rosalie Talarzyk says:

    This email sent from me to Joanne Frantz (SYC) and our group of grandma aged friends.
    Joanne suggested I send it on to you. Enjoy my grandma saga of unsupervised adventures of three eight year old and one ten year old grand girls written in response to your article:

    ok…..now i have to share my latest adventure with my grand girls.

    after our easter egg hunt at westover park where my six plus our chinese friend were joined at the end by maggie and rees…….
    the girls all asked if they could sleep over since there was no monday school.
    i claimed some time for clean up and quiet. they were to come back at 6:30 with sleeping bags and having had dinner.

    they arrived.

    we went straight to play in the creek….since it was SO WARM.
    three ended up shoeless in the water.
    they all shed jackets.
    abby found a quarter in the water.
    lauren found a big blue shooter marble in the water.
    they performed gymnastics and musical pieces LOUDLY from the top of the culvert cover at the east end.
    we came home at 8pm for showers and general mayhem till lights out at nine for their basement sleepover.

    abby came up crying at midnight with an accident….but went right back to sleep.

    at five i heard them in the front hallway.
    i flipped on the light and went down.
    i wished with all my heart that i had had a camera.
    three of them were dressed for the day in same clothes from creek play.
    they all looked like deer in the headlights…..or night at the museum just before dawn…caught in the act.

    i sent them to different corners of the house and they all promptly went back to sleep.
    two woke up at 7:30, one at 8:30, one at 9.

    we walked to chef-o-nette for breakfast where chris met us after her morning IPE meetings at barrington.
    on the walk, evan shared that they had all gotten up at 3:00 and played till 5.
    abby shared that grace was sad and they talked it out.
    they got out a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle but decided it was too hard.
    they shared their animals….etc.

    while the waitress was taking orders evan announced to her mom and the waitress that “it was all fun till we got busted.”
    the first of many times….i am sure.
    i am still laughing at the looks on their faces when i came downstairs.
    they kept saying, “we thought we were being so quiet.”
    bubbe

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Rosalie, thanks for sharing this wonderful account of unsupervised adventures! Keep them coming.