Urban parents are so anxious about protecting their children that they don’t allow them even small freedoms. But cocoons can smother…
Would you allow your nine-year-old son to pop across to the shop for a bar of chocolate? Or your 11-year-old daughter to cycle around the quiet streets of your neighbourhood with a friend?
Thirty years ago, the answers to these questions would have been, “Yes, of course“. But today the responses are likely to be an appalled “Certainly not“.

This shift in attitudes is at the heart of a heated discussion about parenting. The worldwide debate was triggered by an incident in the US when two children ­ Rafi, 10, and Dvora, 6 ­ were spotted walking by themselves to a park a mile away from their house in Silver Springs, Maryland.The authorities launched an investigation. And the Meitivs–proponents of “free-range parenting“ ­ found themselves in the midst of a media storm.“How have we gotten so crazy that what was just a normal childhood a generation ago is considered radical?“ asked Danielle Meitiv.

Clearly though, the definition of “a normal childhood“ has changed over the last three decades. Today, parents are determined to protect their children from traffic, mosquitoes and all manner of shadowy terrors. So, ironically, the very children who spent hours climbing walls, traipsing down to Janata Stores for a shuttlecock or playing hide-and-seek in unfamiliar buildings have grown into parents who will not let their own progeny out of sight.

In the US, these attitudes are reinforced by laws that insist that children are supervised in public places. While in middle-class India, jumpy parents set the norms.

“Just a week ago my 12-year-old asked me if she could walk down to the shop at the corner of the road by herself,“ says Shefali Chauhan, a mother of two. “Our area is safe and the shop is three minutes away . But I refused. I know that at her age I was going to the lending library or pav wala by myself. I know that I’m ridiculously protective. But I have two maids just to be with the kids. So why take chances?“ At every mummies’ lunch in Mumbai or Bangalore such questions are discussed endlessly: Is it ok for a 15-year-old to take a taxi by herself ? Is it ok to send a child alone with the driver, or should a maid always go along? “I have mixed views,“ admits Gopika Kapoor, the author of Spiritual Parenting and mother of twins. “I don’t know if the world is a more evil place than when we grew up. But I do know that there is a tremendous sense of paranoia among parents today . I live in a gated community , but even so I tell my children to wave to me when they go down to play . Somehow we need to protect them, but also to let them go.“

An exasperated teacher from a South Mumbai school says parents now panic easily. “They are scared about school outings, about the school bus, about who is watching the chil dren when they play at lunch, about insects. Terrible things do happen all the time but their extreme panic can be crippling for the child,“ she says.

This pervasive paranoia compelled writer Lenore Skenazy to set up a website and write her famous book, Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry. The woman who was labelled “America’s worst mom“ for allowing her son to ride the New York subway alone urged children to be more daring and parents to calm down. parenting

Today, prosperous Indian families, like Americans, are happy to give their children endless gadgets and gym classes at the cost of freedom, adventure and exploration. But studies indicate that over-protection can lead to frightening repercussions ­ from shyness to obesity to depression.

Experts say that it is possible to build self-confidence even while protecting your child. “I would never tell my children to walk alone to a park a mile away .But I do encourage them to go to the shop in our housing complex,“ says Kapoor. Agrees Rupa Patel, who conducts parenting workshops in Mumbai, “Giving children independence at the right time is essential. But so is vigilance.When your toddler decides to walk from the bench to the swing in the park, allow it. But keep your eye on her because she can get hurt.“

Source : TOI 26 July 2015