COVID surprise: Kids are doing all the stuff their helicopter parents used to do for them

COVID surprise: Kids are doing all the stuff their helicopter parents used to do for them

Lenore Skenazy

Lenore Skenazy is the co-founder and president of Let Grow, a nonprofit promoting childhood independence and resilience. Ever since her column ”Why I Let My 9-Year-Old Ride the Subway Alone” created a media firestorm, Lenore has been declaring that our kids are smarter, stronger and safer than our fearful culture gives them credit for. She is the author of Free-Range Kids, the book-turned-movement. Before that she spent 14 years as a reporter and columnist at the New York Daily News. At Let Grow, Lenore oversees school programs, an online community, and legislative efforts all fueled by the belief that when adults step back, kids step up.

  • The coronavirus pandemic may have a silver lining: It shows how insanely resourceful kids really are.
  • Let Grow, a non-profit promoting independence as a critical part of childhood, ran an “Independence Challenge” essay contest for kids. Here are a few of the amazing essays that came in.
  • Download Let Grow’s free Independence Kit with ideas for kids.

Worried that the pandemic is ruining kids? That they’re falling behind? Falling apart?

The good news is, there is good news. A whole lot of kids are not only adjusting to this very weird new world, they are even—I know this sounds strange—flourishing. Or maybe the word is “recovering” from their super-busy, no-time-to-breathe lives up till now.

I run Let Grow, a nonprofit promoting independence as a critical part of childhood. The kind of childhood you might remember—or at least saw on “Stranger Things,” with kids riding their bikes, and staying out till the streetlights came on—had very nearly evaporated. Today’s kids spend most of their waking hours in activities run by adults: school, sports, extracurriculars, homework, and the dreaded reading log.

What happens when that highly structured life suddenly goes out the window? Here’s one account from a girl named Sable, age 12. She writes:

Anxiety has always been a part of my life, so when I heard school was closing due to the coronavirus, I was very scared. See, my mom still had to go to work each day, so I was left home alone with my two dogs. During the first week, I would email my mom every five minutes and get furious when she didn’t answer right away—scared that something had happened, when in reality it was all fine. But after the first week, I realized that this wasn’t so bad!


I was more independent and I loved it. Being independent is like getting a power-up in a video game or winning a prize at the claw machine. You’re getting a boost of confidence. I made my own rules and had to decide between right and wrong choices, such as, ‘Should I have a healthy option for lunch, or a bowl of ice cream?’ (Sometimes I picked ice cream, but you get my point.) I got so into preparing meals that I started to make lunch for my mom and homemade treats for my dogs…

Geez Louise! The girl is sunny as a daffodil. So is she some kind of opposite kid—when everyone else gets scared, she gets brave?

Actually, no. She’s blossoming because at last she’s discovering her strength. And she is not the only one.

Sable entered Let Grow’s “Independence Challenge” essay contest (entries now closed). We asked kids what new things they started doing since school closed, and their answers proved exactly what we’ve believed all along: Kids are insanely resourceful! This was just hard to see, back when everything was going “right.”

Being independent is like getting a power-up in a video game or winning a prize at the claw machine. You’re getting a boost of confidence.

— Sable, age 12

Pre-pandemic, the culture had stopped believing kids could do anything safely or successfully on their own. Not only were kids incredibly overscheduled, they were also overprotected. Adults were driving them everywhere, arranging their playdates, intervening if the kids got a B, or a bruise.

As a result, I’ve met middle schoolers who’d never been allowed to walk the dog, or ride their bike to a friend’s house. Middle schoolers who’d never used a sharp knife. They’d been helped so much, it was actually hurting them. A 2018 Pew study found 70% of adolescents said anxiety and depression were big problems among their peers. Makes sense. Being treated like a baby when you’re not a baby is depressing.

And then, suddenly—WHAM! Time to step up to the plate, thanks to a bio-catastrophe.

Sure, the adults are still around, sometimes 24/7 now. But they’re distracted. And besides, they can’t possibly fill all those hours that used to be filled with school and all the after-school stuff. So, for the first time in their lives, a whole lot of kids are finally getting to see just how much they can handle on their own. (Click here for a free Let Grow Independence Kit with ideas for kids.)

One essay came from a 14-year-old who owned two guitars, but only started learning to play now that school was out. One eight-year-old girl gleefully admitted she’d ridden her bike further than she was supposed to. A seven-year-old scared of the stove started making eggs (and now thinks he should have his own cooking show). The stories go on and on, and you can read them below—just keep scrolling. Stories of kids liberated from a hovering culture that had accidentally been keeping them down.

Not that every single child is suddenly bursting with creativity and confidence. If only! But the pandemic is giving kids back some free time and some responsibility—the sunshine and spring rain of child development.

Let the growth begin.

This 103-year-old philosopher’s to-do list will get you through self-isolation

This 103-year-old philosopher’s to-do list will get you through self-isolation

  • Like everybody else, Romanian philosopher Mihai Sora is stuck inside.
  • He is keeping busy for a 103-year-old man, and keeping the world up to date on his indoor adventures with Facebook.
  • His to-do list is impressive, but not so impressive it can’t be used by most people.

The social isolation necessitated by COVID-19 is difficult for a lot of people. Between being mostly stuck inside, having reduced contact with other people, and the creeping boredom that comes after you’ve done everything on your to-do list, it’s little wonder that people are getting stressed out about it.

However, there are ways to make it a little more tolerable. A few good ideas for what do at home these days come from the Romanian philosopher Mihai Sora who, at 103 years old, is keeping the world posted on his social isolation practices via Facebook. According to the Calvert Journal, some of the items on his to-do list include:

  • Solving a Rubik’s Cube
  • Painting his white fridge (inside and out)
  • Reading Proust
  • Starting to learn Swedish
  • Improving his Japanese
  • Writing in his “little Facebook notebook”
  • Drawing a flock of sheep
  • Clearing out his study
  • Learning how to use the washing machine
  • “Stoically” listening to French composer Pierre Boulez
  • Checking out planets discovered by NASA
  • “Training in general,” as well as reading and using his exercise bike.

Meet Mihai Sora, one of the most interesting men in the world

Born in 1916 in what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Mihai went to France for his PhD in philosophy as a young man. When the Nazis invaded, he joined the French Resistance. After the war, he was offered French citizenship but declined to return to his homeland, newly communist Romania. Unable to leave Romania after 1948 because of the aforementioned communism, he was unable to publish his work again for 20 years due to government censorship. To make ends meet, he worked day jobs, often getting fired for insubordination, and translated classic literature into Romanian.

After the fall of Romanian Communism, he served as the Minister of Education for a brief period. He resigned in protest against street violence between miners and anti-communist protesters. Now, in his golden years, he remains an activist. He even found the time to go to a few street protests at the age of 101.

His philosophy is also nothing to sneeze at—his first major essay, “On Interior Dialogue. Fragment from a Metaphysical Anthropology” was well received in postwar France, and his political philosophy has attracted a fair amount of attention.

How he is keeping sane during social isolation

In addition to accomplishing all this, Dr. Sora is keeping the world up to date on his isolation through Facebook posts. The posts include his observations of how nice the night sky is:

Musings on how weird it would be for aliens who show up when the streets are empty:

Notes on how to entertain children:

Mihai ȘORA

Updates on his art projects:

And reminders that this, too, shall pass and afterwards we should go for a nice walk in nature:

This might be the kind of social media influencer the world doesn’t deserve but actually needs.

His posts and to-do list are particularly brilliant in that they are not fundamentally difficult or too foreign for most people to emulate. His to-do list includes chores, learning things he always wanted to but lacked time for, and doing things he already enjoys.

If you’re stuck at home too, perhaps you should borrow a few of these ideas. Ever wanted to start learning a new language? You’ve got time for it now. Ever want to read the classics? Project Guttenberg is online, has thousands of books to choose from, and your schedule is clear. More creatively minded? That’s fine; there are plenty of Bob Ross videos on YouTube to get you started in painting. There aren’t a ton of great online resources for helping you clean out your study, but that’s also a good idea of Dr. Sora’s you should steal.

And don’t forget to take his advice to look up at the sun, moon, and stars every once in a while. Just because you’re stuck inside doesn’t mean you can’t wonder at the scope of the cosmos. Just because we’re all a bit anxious lately doesn’t mean we have to lose our sense of awe.

So, try some of his ideas for yourself. After all, if they are keeping a person with as exciting a life as Mihai Sora occupied, it should be enough to keep most people busy for a few more weeks.