Remember the summer days of your childhood when you’d leave your house in the morning and run around the neighborhood until late into the night? Scraped knees, biking to the ice cream shop, nightly games of Kick the Can and Capture the Flag, bouncing from backyard to backyard – all of these activities used to define the All-American summer.
But the rise of helicopter parenting – a style in which parents focus excessively on their children, hovering over them and jumping in to help with or take over even the most simple tasks – has led to drastic changes in the way kids play and interact with their peers.
In one sociologist’s opinion, it could be part of the reason for the rise in screen addiction among American kids and teens.
Sociologist and author Frank Furedi recently wrote an article for the online magazine Spiked, in which he argued that by taking away a child’s ability to create adventure in the real world, parents are inadvertently driving them to find it online.
“My research has led me to the conclusion that the compulsive attachment of children to their online worlds is down to the fact that adult society has made it very difficult for them to engage with the offline world,” he writes. “Risk-averse child-rearing has created a climate in which children are constantly discouraged from experiencing life outdoors.”
There’s no denying the fact that internet addiction is a real problem facing adolescents today. A recent study out of the Pew Research Center revealed a whopping 95 percent of kids between the ages of 13 and 17 have access to a smartphone in 2018.
But perhaps the greatest concern – nearly half of these teens are spending most of their waking hours online. Forty-five percent of the teens surveyed reported using the internet “almost constantly.” That number has doubled in just three years.
“During the past three decades, a culture of fear has enveloped childhood. Alarmist accounts of stranger danger, bullying or the likelihood of traffic accidents have made parents reluctant to allow their children to go out and explore,” Furedi writes. “Today, parents frequently accompany children on their way to school. They hover over them when they play in the park. Many children are actively discouraged from playing on their own outdoors… No wonder that the simple delights of climbing trees and building dens have been replaced by hours spent in front of screens.”
The negative effects of helicopter parenting on children and teens are staggering. One study reported in Psychology Today earlier this year revealed that children being reared by helicopter parents were more likely to develop anxiety and depression. Other data suggests over parenting can stunt a child’s ability to develop healthy emotional and cognitive skills.
Kids, Furedi argues, need social interaction and creative stimulation. This could explain why so many adolescents and teens turn to social online games like Fornite to fill that need.
“Children and young people have always looked for escapist outlets for their energy,” writes Furedi. “The make-believe world children once created through direct interaction with one another has simply been relocated online.”
So what can we do to facilitate and encourage adventure outside of a screen? Perhaps it’s as simple as a return to the nostalgia of summers past. Send your kids outside. Host their friends in your backyard. Drive them to the ice cream shop if you’re uncomfortable with an independent trip. Watch those night games from your front window.
Just let your kids play outside.
“The earlier we set about providing children with opportunities to explore the offline world, the more likely they are to develop the resources they need to manage risks and gain self-confidence,” says Furedi. “Children who have developed an aspiration for independence are unlikely to stay in their digital bedrooms.”
If you’re looking for ways to step away from the screen this summer, be sure to check out these past blog posts: