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Wellness / August 14, 2016

Let your child live dangerously

Written by: Roxanne Trujillo

What is a helicopter parent?

A helicopter parent is a protector. A vigilant guardian. They rarely let their kids out of sight if they can avoid it. At any moment, they are ready to swoop in and save their progeny from danger.

Sounds great… right? Not really.

I am not a helicopter parent, and I hope to never be. But why is helicopter parenting bad? And more importantly, what is helicopter parenting doing to our children? How can our desire to protect our children ultimately hurt them… and how can we stop?

Much of my own parenting philosophy is inspired by Richard Louv’s book “Last Child in the Woods.”

Louv writes that modern children don’t have the freedom to play unsupervised in the natural world. This, he claims, has left children less able to concentrate, manage risk, and think critically. Worse still, it has erased from modern kids the magical worldview that defined childhood for many of us.

When I was a kid, I left my house at 8 am, checked in at noon and didn’t return till the moon was shining bright in the dark black sky. I spent my day building tree houses, catching salamanders in the window wells, seeking out the deepest mud puddles and sleeping under the stars with all the neighborhood children. My fondest memories came from unstructured outdoor nature play.

I want my daughter to have similar memories: the mountain top views, the smell of summer rain, and the feel of worms crawling across her palms.  So I foster her experiences in nature and allow her to participate in activities that others may find dangerous.

There is something really special about allowing nature to serve as a teaching tool. In this century, I think it’s a really important gesture to unplug kids from technology and let their spirits soar in the mud puddles, in the creeks with crawfish, in chasing and capturing lightning bugs.

It’s important to give them the freedom to explore the thick woods that reflect the pictures in children’s books and participate in adventures that encourage imagination and empowerment.

At least one study has found that children who play outside every day have better motor coordination and improved concentration than their supervised peers. And speaking from firsthand experience, I’ve noticed signs of ADD in myself since the iPhone and social media entered my daily routine.

So why is helicopter parenting bad? Because it’s basically designed to prevent unsupervised outdoor play. It denies children alone time, and sends the message that their parents don’t trust them. It’s obviously not the best way to handle parenting, but it’s not always easy to avoid.

So here, in four easy steps, is a guide for how to not be a helicopter parent:

    1. Let them play with fire. No, this doesn’t mean give them a cigarette lighter and set them loose. But when a child can tinker with a fire or start their own, they learn to control an element of nature. When properly managed, fire maintenance can teach coordination and risk management and give children a powerful sense that they are in control of their own destiny.
    2. Let them ride their bike to school. This activity teaches a child observation and awareness of their surroundings, and helps them develop a head for navigation. It is also a good outlet to release built up energy or anxiety. The endorphins released by a bike ride will prime the brain for learning, which is handy before class.
    3. Let them sleep in the wild. At night, even the backyard is a long way from home for most kids. So letting them sleep there in a tent (without parents) will help them develop a deep and lasting sense of self-reliance. This way, they’ll feel ready for the larger challenges life is bound to throw at them later.
    4. Let them break rocks. Breaking open the rock allows a child to experience cause and effect. Children can experience discovery and understand rock formations simply by breaking open something that potentially looks really boring from the outside. They will feel respected and trusted with the hammer, and using the tool will help build precision and risk management skills.

Each of these four things will connect the child with nature, which will in turn make them better critical thinkers. But even a short walk in the woods will do some good… provided the child can choose some of the trails.

What is a helicopter parent, then, to a child? At best, a helicopter parent is a savior. But more often, a helicopter parent is a gate between the child and the world. By letting our children  live dangerously from time to time, we can give that fence a gate.

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about the author

Roxanne Trujillo

Roxanne is a Coloradical single track slayer, crux seeking, pow loving, thrill taking mom of a child that's comparably wild. Armed with enthusiasm and good coffee, she devotes herself to the outdoors and keeping pace with her adorable and energetic daughter. She is an ambassador for RaceFace, a V-something climber and goes by Birdy. She fantasizes often about throwing herself, daughter, friends and bikes in a Sprinter wrapped in #canvasthetoddler and peeling out to chase the mundo hermoso.

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