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Wpuld some children benefit from a bit of 'benign neglect'?

(40 Posts)
Greatnan Fri 08-Mar-13 21:12:27

I read of children in the UK who are taken to school by car, picked up from school, taken to extra classes, sports coaching, guides, etc. by parents who are convinced they need constant attention. Surely this impedes the development of imagination? My mother never played with us, she was too busy, but my sister and I made our own games (with very few toys) and my own daughters used to roam the fields around our house in the Wirral for much of the school holidays, with a large gang of friends.
I think many parents over-estimate the pleasure their constant attention gives their children, and also the dangers of allowing them some freedom.

Greatnan Fri 08-Mar-13 21:13:02

Please forgive type in title - I am no on my own computer!

HildaW Fri 08-Mar-13 21:36:05

There is a modern phrase, 'Helicopter Parents' the sort that are always whirling around their children leaving them little time to develop independence.
Yes, I believe children need time to get use their imaginations and find their own inner motivations. However, coming from a set of parents who paid little attention to how we spent our time (other than making us go to school - which was a pleasure to get away from them at times) I do think its great when Mums and Dads show a real interest and then support children in pastimes hobbies etc. I also think that once a child has shown an interest in say dance or swimming then they should be gently 'encouraged' to pursue it for a decent amount of time before being allowed to give it up at the first slight upset. Ferrying unwilling or tired children from one activity to another just becasue the parents are in a sort of 'keeping up with the Joneses is plain daft.
To be honest, as with all things its a balance.

Gally Fri 08-Mar-13 21:47:40

Quite agree Greatnan. My daughters had to get themselves to school from the age of 10, 8 and 7 by train and then bus. There were strict rules and contingency plans, but as my Dad would have said, it put hairs on their chests! Parents who lived within walking distance of the school drove their little darlings. At home they spent hours with friends in the garden just 'playing'. GC's here in Oz run home from school, grab a snack and then join all the neighbourhood children across the road and play for hours up and around a huge tree using their imagination and ingenuity. As a child, I was never happier than when making a camp underneath my Mum's washing airer covered with a sheet. Too much 'stuff' around these days - a little more freedom and time to use imagination and just be kids is what they need. Oh well, just off to take the 4 year old to ballet class wink

whenim64 Fri 08-Mar-13 22:03:36

I agree with al these comments. It isn't necessary to provide constant attention, stimulation and entertainment for children - it stifles their imaginations. They can be left to their own devices from a safe distance, increasing according to age, with no ill-effect and they can find out more about themselves and what interests them.

janeainsworth Fri 08-Mar-13 22:04:47

Agree with you Greatnan - up to a point wink.
I encouraged my DCs to play by themselves and walk home from school, but I also made time to read books to them when they were little and when they were older we encouraged their interests outside school - my DH spent countless hours sailing with the older two (younger one wasn't really interested, but got grade 8 piano instead).
I think even if they don't achieve great heights with these outside activities, it gives them a basis for interests to carry on in adult life and a way of socialising with other people, all of which is an anti-dote to stress at work.
The important thing is that children should enjoy what they do and have time to just be themselves too.

Deedaa Fri 08-Mar-13 23:03:29

From the age of 8 to 15 my daughter trained for over 20 hours a week as a gymnast, only stopping when she'd been injured to often to carry on. My son on the other hand thrived on healthy neglect. We lived in the country and he would go out in the morning and come back at night and it was years before I heard about some of his adventures (falling through the ice etc.!) Recently I told him that I felt a bit guilty that he'd spent so much time amusing himself and he assured me that his childhood had never been less than perfect - possibly he's just easily pleased?
Our grandson has started complaining that no one has ever asked him if he WANTS to go to his gym club and football club, but he has been told he can give them up if he wants to. Apart from anything else they all cost money!

Greatnan Fri 08-Mar-13 23:57:09

Of course I am not advocating that parents ignore their children, don't listen to them read/read to them, etc. - just that they leave the children some space to be themselves.

Jadey Sat 09-Mar-13 00:02:08

I think you are right greatnan too much molly coddling is going on, and I speak from experience as I too was one of those parents and now I am paying the very heafty painful price!!

Eloethan Sat 09-Mar-13 00:36:46

I don't think it's always "keeping up with the Jones's" that makes people enrol their children in activities. I think they may be trying to prevent them from becoming totally housebound and obsessed with computer games. Also, they may be trying to give them opportunities they didn't have in their own childhood. (For example, neither of my parents could swim and I only learned to swim about 20 years ago. I was therefore very keen that our own children should, as early as possible, learn to swim and so we paid for swimming lessons.

However, I don't think it's neglectful to let your children get on and amuse themselves for periods of time. If they are always being entertained, they become unable to entertain themselves. Every spare moment doesn't have to be filled with worthy projects.

But, like Hilda I think it's important for parents to encourage, and preferably to engage in, activities such as hiking, cycling, swimming, playing sports, camping, etc., etc., so that as children get older they have a range of interests and enthusiasms which don't necessarily require spending lots of money. (This isn't typical of my own childhood, where most free time was spent watching TV, drawing or reading.)

vegasmags Sat 09-Mar-13 10:08:46

My own children had a great deal of freedom to play out with their friends, but they did have tennis and swimming lessons which were not provided at school. My DGS has a very different life, in that his mother works full time, so that he goes to breakfast club and after school club. I was fortunate enough to be at home when my children were small, so that I could supervise them, if from a distance. So many mothers now have to work that it is very difficult for my DIL even to organise a friend coming home for tea.
My DGS is also an only child, and rather shy, so that organised activities such as Cubs have been for him a very important way of making friends.
There is now so much more traffic on the streets that playing out is much more hazardous and, certainly in my street, some neighbours get very upset if their precious car is hit by a stray football. The nearest park is not one you would be comfortable allowing young children to go off to by themselves, as it is usually full of badly behaved teenagers and assorted yobs.

Notso Sat 09-Mar-13 10:25:47

My 2 youngest grandsons, nearly 5 & nearly 7, seems to enjoy a balance. They are taken to after-school and weekend sporting activities that they enjoy. At home, and with the benefit of lots of outdoor space, they are mostly left to explore and amuse themselves. I've occasionally been alarmed at the 'hands off' parenting style they experience, but they are both very happy and settled little boys with a wealth of (semi-dangerous hmm) practical skills beyond their years.

annodomini Sat 09-Mar-13 10:40:44

It was a godsend when we moved from a house on a busy main road to a village when the boys were 5 and 7. There was a playing field, tennis courts and the common. They made friends quickly and I made friends with their mums. I could usually find them in one haunt or another. Those years stood them in good stead.

LullyDully Sat 09-Mar-13 10:40:56

I think you are being realistic Vegasmags. We used to walk to school when we started. I was 4 and brother 8/9. We could cross the road without help and hunt for conkers in people's gardens. Remember making stories up about tiny creatures in tree holes.

If my Gch walked to school now it would not be long before a car knocked them down. As for the park it is not safe for lone children. There are just too many people in the country and too much traffic. Not all of us can afford to have acres of country side to play in sadly.

We like to listen to the Famous Five stories on CD on long car trips. The grand kids love to hear about the adventures the children had, free from adults. They went on a camping trip on a train with bikes...alone. They take a rowing boat over to a deserted island to camp...alone. The grumpy, busy adults ignored them apart from supplying ginger beer and jam sandwiches. Great but fiction, perhaps even in those days.

Children must be safe and yet as free as possible to develop their imaginations that is the dilemma we are faced with. The 1953 is not 2013. { though to judge by the news paedophilia is nothing new.}

vampirequeen Sat 09-Mar-13 11:00:09

Children were in just as much danger from paedophiles in the fifties and sixties as they are now. In fact it's possible they were in more danger as most people didn't know such predators existed and those that did often didn't protect children as it was seen as a private family affair. My parents believed that all they had to do was verbally warn off a known predator who we came into contact with all the time. Of course they were wrong but they didn't know that. People didn't understand how these predators thought and acted.

Children are far less trusting and more aware of stranger danger these days. If they play in groups I don't see how they're anymore at risk than in the past.

I accept that roads are more dangerous due to the increase in traffic but there are pelican crossings now that stop the traffic completely. They didn't exist when I was young. Children are more at risk because they don't go out enough. They're not taught to take responsibility for their safety. Stop, look and listen is second nature to us because we did it so often. Our children have to have that opportunity.

I like the phrase benign neglect. It's exactly what children need. They need the chance to take risks, to fail and succeed, to be independent, indeed to be bored.

Mishap Sat 09-Mar-13 11:20:55

Learning to amuse oneself is an important lesson that stands children in good stead in later life.

granjura Sat 09-Mar-13 11:30:13

So agree Greatnan- I wish my grand-children could come and live here instead of suburban Surrey where life is as you describe! Here kids are expected to walk to school alone (with friends) from a very young age- as developing independence and responsibility is very much part of early education. It is causing endless problems with expats who just cannot cope with the concept.

Reminds me of a ski trip I took a few years ago. One of the older ski instructors, who had been a teacher all her life here (in Switzerland) one day asked if she could have a word with me. She just couldn't fathom how so many of our kids were so overweight, and so many had no natural balance at all, no strength, no 'ooomph' at all, and just sat there and cried if they fell over, and refused to even try to get up by themselves. I explained they lived in a city suburb and were all taken to school by car and dropped at the gate, that PE lessons were few, that they did little sport with the families, the constant fear of peodophilia , etc. She was a really lovely lady and she said 'this is just so sad and tragic, don't the parents realise they are killing the kids with over-protection- in a natural disaster, none of those kids would survive, would they?'.

Often heard around here 'mum, we're off to the woods' 'OK have you got some water and a snack, and your pen knife' 'yes, mum, back around 6, bye'. They go off on their own to the local ski slope or swimming pool, football pitch, cycling or walking, or to each other's homes - accidents to happen of course, usually minor and accepted as part of life's training.

vegasmags Sat 09-Mar-13 11:38:48

I'm afraid the world has changed, whether we like it or not, and the challenge is as LullyDully says to find ways to encourage children's imagination and independence to flourish. I'm not suggesting that we organise children to an inch of their lives, or hover anxiously over them, but simply recognise that the world is not as child-friendly as it used to be. I used to sometimes take my DS to watch Manchester United play, but I certainly wouldn't take my DGS. Even in the so-called family area, it is impossible to escape the obscenities and disgusting chanting, not to mention the public urination. Would grown men have behaved liked this in the 50s, in the presence of women and children?

JessM Sat 09-Mar-13 12:19:51

All the above (given that I scanned rather than read every word) applies to middle class children and parents. As did the recent remarks of female MP on the subject.
There are a huge number of families who do not have enough money for basics. The kids do not get driven anywhere, they don't have a car. They do not participate in anything unless the school are providing it. Even then - if it needs extra sports kit or something they may not be able to. There is a huge divide between the children of those whose parents have reasonable jobs and those whose parents are on low wages or benefits.
In the school I know well even the most affluent and involved parents (and they are few) are excluded from some things we would take for granted. I said to one dad , who had a good job and a very bright, hard working daughter "Why don't you go for a family day out to Oxford (40 min drive) and have a look round. You can go inside the colleges and look round." He looked at me as if I had suggested a family day our to Singapore.

BAnanas Sat 09-Mar-13 14:32:23

I do agree with you Greatnan, my parents never fussed over me as a child sometimes I think they were almost bordering on negligent. I remember going to Brownies from I think aged 7, the meetings were held in our church hall and afterwards I would walk home on my own in the dark, I don't remember being picked up. My brother and I would frequently disappear all day in the school holidays we lived near a common which had ponds and woods we would meet up with friends and spend the whole day building camps and looking for newts. All my own childrens' activities were supervised and I drove them all over the place when they were still at junior school. They did however take themselves off from about 12 skateboarding and roller blading, I think they might have had mobile phones by then so I could kind of keep tabs on them.

In an interview recently Rachel Johnson said that when her parents were living in Brussels she and Boris had to get themselves unaccompanied by train and ferry back to school in England. I think they were quite young at the time but she thought it made them the people they are today.

granjura Sat 09-Mar-13 14:42:16

JessM - touché, sadly. However I'd say it does not apply to the poorest of our children and very much the exception, in my own experience. Most of the children at the primary and secondary schools on the 2 council estates near me in Leicester were picked up by car- creating huge danger for the other kids walking home as they live VERY close.

At my school we certainly organised youth hostelling trips and local visits which were affordable for all, as children on free school meals got free places.

Our ski trip of course different. But we did fundraising to help those who couldn't pay- traveled by bus overnight to cut cost, organised second hand sales and clothing hire, and had our own clothing bank from our own stuff or given to us, etc. Some of the children I took skiing came from very challenged families.

FlicketyB Sat 09-Mar-13 15:01:56

I absolutely agree with Rachel Johnson, having had a not dissimilar chidlhood. Aged 10 and 8 my sister and I used to travel from Kowloon on the mainland to school on Hong Kong Island. We had to cross by ferry, with a longish bus ride both sides. DPs planned a route with buses that stopped and left from the ferry terminal, after a few weeks DS and I re-organised it, catching a different ferry and buses with long walks between so that we could travel with friends. It was months before DPs knew what we were doing.

At 11 at a new boarding school in the UK in a town we did not know and DPs living in a house in a small village we had never visited we were sent transport costs and instructions and the two of us got ourselves into town, found the bus station, the bus, got off the bus 20 miles later and found the house. We travelled out to the far east, theoretically as unaccompanied minors, but actually without any supervision, at 13 and 15 respectively. We coped with overnight stopovers, when the plane broke down (this was the 1950s/60s) and awkward customs officers. I cannot remember us ever being bothered by any of this

janeainsworth Sat 09-Mar-13 15:15:22

Vegasmags I agree with you about living in a different world.
The internet can be a dangerous place for children and this is one area where I think parents have to exercise very strict control.

vegasmags Sat 09-Mar-13 15:28:36

That's very true jane. Unfortunately, many parents are not as computer literate as their children. My one regret at the demise of the desktop PC is that it could be situated in the living room, so that everyone could see what was being accessed. Mobile devices make this much more difficult for ordinary parents. As a former lecturer in computing studies, I can assure you that enquiring minds can easily subvert parental control software. I do feel that in this one aspect at least I have been able to educate my DGS and his parents to use the internet safely and responsibly.

vampirequeen Sat 09-Mar-13 16:48:24

Apart from the extra traffic is the world more dangerous or is it represented as such to us by the media? Not saying this as a fact...just posing the question.