June 28, 2018
What Skenazy dubbed free-range parenting used to be the standard — the way that Generation Xers and those before them were raised, with parents letting kids outside in the morning to play and not expecting them back home until dinnertime. If children got hurt or lost, their parents had faith that they would eventually get home safely — and more often than not, they did.
The switch to more protective parenting happened gradually, but the 1980s was a turning point, marked by high-profile crimes including the 1981 abduction and murder of 6-year-old Adam Walsh from a Florida mall. At the same time, schools became more rigorous amid fears that American children couldn’t compete globally, and some parents began to jam-pack their children’s schedules with structured extracurriculars.
“Children’s freedom to go out and explore has declined and the amount of time children are spending in school and doing homework and other school-like activities like adult-directed sports and classes has increased,” said Peter Gray, a psychology research professor at Boston College and the author of “Free to Learn.”
As parents with the time and resources to do so began to micromanage their kids’ lives, the so-called helicopter parent was born.