How to Raise Street Smart Kids
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If you grew up in the 80s or 90s, you more than likely have fond memories of being outside with friends with parents nowhere in sight. For better or worse, today’s kids are much less likely to have these experiences as parents have gravitated toward greater oversight of their children.
This phenomenon is so prevalent that it even has a name — helicopter parenting — and has become the norm rather than the exception.
“It is widely accepted that parents feel like they have to more closely monitor their children,” says Renee Morgan, M.D., a pediatrician with the University of Miami Health System.
What are the effects of helicopter parenting?
Whatever factors led to this development over the decades, whether it’s concern about safety, school performance, exposure to digital dangers, or other factors, this extensive oversight is not always a good thing. The American Psychological Association says that children with helicopter parents are less able to deal with challenges independently, especially when it comes to school or independent thinking. The result is kids are more likely to act out and less likely to perform well in their classes.
Increased parental surveillance is not all bad, says Dr. Morgan. There’s no question that it can help kids be safer, both in the real world and when first navigating the challenges of the online world and the predators that may lie within.
How do parents teach independence but still keep kids safe?
Shani A. Jones, M.D., a pediatrician with the University of Miami Health System, says that this process can start with active engagement from parents, even when kids are fairly young.
“Based on recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics, parents can assign young children small tasks that can develop responsibility, such as setting the table or feeding pets,” says Dr. Jones. “There should be a specific routine for structure and then allow them to gradually do more alone, for example, picking out what they will wear the next day.”
By starting kids on independent tasks when they are younger, you can gradually increase their responsibilities and the complexity of these tasks as they grow older. That way, when they are old enough to be left home alone for a period of time, it should be easier for them to understand the skills they need to stay safe in these situations.
“They should know how to turn off any alarms and know what to do if there is a fire or gas leak. Make sure your child knows your cell phone number, work number, and how to reach other emergency contacts or call 911 if needed,” says Dr. Jones.
“If separated in public, tell them to find a police officer or security guard. You can even point out the person yourself when going out with your child.”
Ultimately, the goal is to set the stage for a more independent child who can transition seamlessly into adulthood.
How can technology help create street smart kids?
“There are various ways to use technology to keep in touch with your children, such as having set check-in times, discussing expectations when your children are not at home with respect to frequency of communication and preferred mode of communication, such as a quick phone call or text,” says Dr. Morgan.
“Expectations about whereabouts and supervision and also making it clear what the consequences would be if your expectations are not met and sticking to what you say.”
Wyatt Myers is a contributor for UHealth’s news service.