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.

Don’t take life so seriously: Montaigne’s lessons on the inner life

Don’t take life so seriously: Montaigne’s lessons on the inner life

The bust of French philosopher Michel de Montaigne is displayed at the bibliotheque in Bordeaux on September 16, 2016, as part of an exhibition and events through the city dedicated to the French philosopher who was mayor of Bordeaux.

My dad was an unhappy man. He used to complain about the slightest thing being out of place – a pen, the honeypot, his special knife with the fattened grip.

By the time his health really started failing, his arthritis so bad he could no longer get out of bed, his condition became all he complained about. ‘Dorian,’ he said, one morning over breakfast, the grapefruit cut up indeed with his special knife, ‘I hate myself.’ He was 86 years old and, I felt, nearing the end of life, so I took it upon myself to help him die as well as he could, a kind of Ars moriendi for the old man. ‘But Dad,’ I said, for the first time in our 32-year relationship. ‘I love you.’ When that didn’t help, I sent him some Montaigne.

Michel Eyquem de Montaigne (1533-92) lived a good, long life for a man in early modern France. By all accounts, it was a happy one, at least if his Essais (1570-92) – rangy discourses on varied subjects from thumbs to cannibals to the nature of ‘experience’ itself – are anything to go by. His writings, autobiographical in nature but highly argumentative, have survived him as somewhat radical (for the time) self-experiments. ‘Thus, reader, I am myself the matter of my book,’ he opens, with a letter of warning about the 1,000-plus pages that follow: ‘you would be unreasonable to spend your leisure on so frivolous and vain a subject.’ Since I took my dad to be also involved in so vain and frivolous a subject – namely, himself (right down to the urinary tract diagrams he drew for me on paper napkins at the dinner table) – I figured they’d have a lot in common.

The passage I chose to hand him, from the essay ‘Of Solitude’, concerned Montaigne’s secret to happiness. It says, simply: these are the things we normally think will bring happiness; they’re wrong, here’s mine. ‘We should have wife, children, goods, and above all health, if we can,’ he writes; ‘but we must not bind ourselves to them so strongly that our happiness depends on them.’ In what’s become something of a trademark for his life philosophy he adds: ‘We must reserve a back shop all our own.’ A back shop – or in the original French, arriere-boutique. Of course, this is metaphor. Of course, my dad took it literally.

What is there left for us to learn from Montaigne on the subject of happiness? For one, that ‘back shop’ doesn’t mean the room behind your place of work. Increasingly confined to his bed, in the crummy 17th-floor apartment that doubled as his home office, my dad read these lines with an eyebrow raised. Granted, Montaigne himself penned them from a castle-tower eyrie, overlooking the vast estate of his château. He didn’t mean for us to take refuge there – this privileged perch was just where he did his writing (as I do mine now in the storage unit behind my house, a heavy wooden partition setting me off from the boxes and mess). No, the physical ‘back shop’ is just a writer’s den, and this misunderstanding has caused critics to huff about Montaigne’s solipsism, as if what he really said was: Go be alone and make great art. This does not lead to happiness, I assure you.

When my dad emailed back, misreading Montaigne in just this way, he nonetheless conceded that the passage I’d sent him was ‘thoughtful’. But not, he added ‘surprising’, as ‘Many writers nowadays speak of personal space, meditation, being alone at times, and so on.’ He went on to say how there was a difference between voluntary and involuntary solitude. ‘Many of us, as we age, become too much involved in that space.’ It’s not just the confinement but the loss of all able-bodied experience that they’re missing out on, and my dad (as ever) listed them: going to the market, dancing, seeing family and friends – precisely the things that Montaigne cautioned his readers not to count on for happiness.

In her book How to Live: Or a Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer (2010), Sarah Bakewell acknowledges the temptation to read Montaigne as an advocate for a type of isolation (chosen or not), but she qualifies this, saying: ‘He is not writing about a selfish, introverted withdrawal from family life, so much as about the need to protect yourself from the pain that would come if you lost that family.’ It was after the death of his closest friend and confidante, Étienne de La Boétie, and then later of his father, that Montaigne retired to his private library. In Donald Frame’s translation, this period is marked by Montaigne’s fall ‘into a melancholic depression, to combat which he begins to write the first of his Essays’. The contemporary US writer and essayist Phillip Lopate ventures that, for Montaigne, ‘the reader took the place of La Boétie’. But how, exactly, did Montaigne’s attempts (the literal translation of essai) assuage grief?

Certainly, an unnamed interlocutor haunts the text, the kind we usually chalk up to self-talk. Talking to people who won’t talk back (or who can’t because they’re no longer with us) is a form of conversational intimacy we might read as an extension of Montaigne’s general affability. In life, Montaigne was known about town as a raconteur with an open-door policy for guests. Even Bakewell, who sums up his back shop as a form of ‘Stoic detachment’, notes that in another lasting dictum Montaigne cried: ‘Be convivial: live with others.’ If Montaigne’s back shop is meant to mend a broken heart, then it is not by avoiding future pain, but by coming into a different relation with it.

Montaigne was well aware that the promise of getting away from it all was a fool’s errand since, wherever you go, you take yourself with you: ‘It is not enough to have gotten away from the crowd,’ he writes, since ‘we must get away from the gregarious instincts that are inside us.’ Instead, to quote Albius Tibullus, one of the Latin poets he grew up with, ‘be to thyself a throng’. This is where I hoped my dad might take note: shut in with no one but himself for company, there might still be a chance for great companionship. ‘We have a soul that can be turned upon itself,’ writes Montaigne, ‘it has the means to attack and the means to defend, the means to receive and the means to give.’ Sadly, my dad didn’t see his own soul this way and, after falling into a depression of his own, he took his own life.

I wonder now if Montaigne’s back shop was less the writer’s saving grace, lifting him from the depths of despair, but not the act of writing from within it? ‘Here our ordinary conversation must be between us and ourselves,’ he writes – and I take it he means that the quality of the inner dialogue will determine the quality of the life.

Montaigne’s mental chatter had a buoyancy to it, as he bounced from one subject to the next, going with the current. What I couldn’t convey to my dad, evidently, was this lightness of attention, distilled in that most famous of Montaignisms: ‘Que sais-je?‘ (What do I know?) In his celebratory portrait of Montaigne, Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1837 comments that: ‘His writing has no enthusiasms, no aspiration; contented, self-respecting, and keeping the middle of the road.’ Not taking life quite so seriously – the pursuit of happiness notwithstanding – might then be Montaigne’s key to dying well. After all, there might be no surer inner peace in one’s final days than not needing it so badly.Aeon counter – do not remove

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons. Read the original article.