Pope Francis issued a warning to parents that our constant hovering isn’t helping our kids
When we were kids, we could head outside and troll the neighborhood from dawn ‘til dusk with our friends, and no one gave a damn as long as we came home and washed up in time for dinner. Now, we live in a different kind of world — one where parents hover over their spawn like military helicopters poised for enemy attack. We’re protecting our kids from every unseen boogeyman, but we’re also hobbling their ability to take care of themselves in the process, and apparently the problem has gotten so bad that even the pope is speaking out.
In his treatise on family life, which was released Thursday, Pope Francis took pains to encourage parents to loosen the reigns a little bit on their cherished baby snowflakes. “Obsession … is not education,” he warned. “If parents are obsessed with always knowing where their children are and controlling all their movements, they will seek only to dominate space. But this is no way to educate, strengthen and prepare their children to face challenges.”
We’re all guilty of micromanaging our kids’ lives at least a little, but instead of worrying ourselves to death, Pope Francis encourages parents to trust our kids and to help them become strong people. “What is most important is the ability lovingly to help them grow in freedom, maturity, overall discipline and real autonomy,” he says. “The real question, then, is not where our children are physically, or whom they are with at any given time, but rather where they are existentially, where they stand in terms of their convictions, goals, desires and dreams.”
Now, obviously the pope isn’t suggesting you leave your toddler in a prison cell lined with matches and broken glass as long as you know they’re cool “existentially,” but he is trying to impress upon us the idea that we should stop fretting over every skinned knee and minor disappointment, and focus instead on whether or not our kids can hack it once they leave our homes.
These days, we’re so afraid to let kids have any space. Last year, a mom in Sacramento faced criminal charges for letting her four-year-old play alone inside their gated community. Prior to that, a Maryland family repeatedly had CPS called on them when they let their three kids walk around the neighborhood unsupervised. A former Stanford dean even wrote an entire book warning parents to back off and stop over-parenting their college-aged kids.
The world is a scary place, but we do our kids a disservice in not preparing them for the challenges they’re going to face. Ultimately, our job as parents is to raise our kids to leave us. Whether you take advice from the pope or think he’s just another person with a funny hat and even funnier opinions, this particular advice is worth heeding. We don’t have to hover to be good parents, and we shouldn’t underestimate the damage we can do with those whirring helicopter blades.