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Are America’s Kids Overprotected?

Parents think kids should have more responsibility — but they still don’t give it to them.

February 2024

Script

Anxiety and depression amongst school-age children in America is at an all-time high.i

A recent study in the Journal of Pediatrics argues that one of the major causes has gone largely unnoticed: It posits that parents don’t give children and teens enough opportunities for “independent activity,” away from adults.

Research indicates the number of kids who walk alone to school or play outside unsupervised has dropped sharply in recent decades.

But some scholars argue that those kinds of activities are essential to kids’ well-being because they promote feelings of self-reliance and confidence that kids can solve their own problems.

Parents seem to grasp this concept intuitively.

One survey found 84% of parents of children ages 9 to 11 say their kids benefit from unsupervised time.ii

Letting it happen, however, is another matter.

Only 50% of parents say they let their child go unsupervised to a different aisle in the grocery store.iii

Just 15% of parents say they would let their children go trick-or-treating alone.iv

Most parents who don’t want to let their child do things alone (54%) say it’s out of fear that it’s unsafe.

But only 17% of those parents said they think they live in an unsafe neighborhood.v

Even parents who want to give their kids more freedom may not be able to.

Many schools around the country won’t let children leave alone.vi

One town in Illinois sent police to question the mother of an 8-year-old girl ... after she let her child walk their dog around the block alone.vii

Keeping kids safe is important, but so is preparing them for adulthood — which, let’s be honest ... is a lot of work.

 

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:

  1. Scholars have suggested that part of the reason for increased anxiety and depression amongst kids is a lack of opportunities for independent activity. 
  2. The number of children who are allowed to do things like walk to school alone or play outside unsupervised has sharply declined in recent decades. 
  3. 84% of parents of children ages 9-11 say their kids benefit from unsupervised time, but only 15% say they would let their children go trick-or-treating alone. 

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