Benefits Of Growing Up A Latchkey Kid
When an idea is shared on the Internet quickly and at great scale — popularly called a meme — it risks jumping the shark into the land of cliché.
Which is why I’m hesitant to cite “The ‘Busy’ Trap” essay from The New York Times.
It’s a well-written piece that hit a nerve with a lot of people. My synopsis: We all feel overcome by overly busy lives, which are really not that busy, but seem that way because they are filled with self-inflicted, overly sanctioned and trivial ambitions. Busy is a horrible proxy for quality of presence and an even worse predictor of life outcome.
Anyway, what really resonated with me was author Tim Krieder’s sentiment about latchkey parenting:
“Even children are busy now, scheduled down to the half-hour with classes and extracurricular activities. They come home at the end of the day as tired as grown-ups. I was a member of the latchkey generation and had three hours of totally unstructured, largely unsupervised time every afternoon, time I used to do everything from surfing the World Book Encyclopedia to making animated films to getting together with friends in the woods to chuck dirt clods directly into one another’s eyes, all of which provided me with important skills and insights that remain valuable to this day. Those free hours became the model for how I wanted to live the rest of my life.”
Indeed, I was a latchkey kid to the fullest extent. While I had no choice in the matter (middle-class broken home with divorced parents living in opposite ends of the country), I think I was responsible and mature enough to put the situation to good use.
I’m not saying I turned out good or a success — that’s all relative and depends on the eye of the beholder. But being a latchkey kid made me who I am. It offered me freedom to think and to explore, and to exercise a few hours of independence everyday. It helped form me into someone who not only is comfortable thinking independently, but yearns for hours of downtime to think independently and without distraction. My latchkey upbringing helped me develop wings and more trusting relationships, especially with family.
Will I condone latchkey parenting for my kids?
I’m not sure. I have two kids aged four and five, and my wife and I both work. I’m torn.
I can’t help but think about peer pressure, drugs and physical safety. And there’s a new demon throwing latchkey kids for a loop: the lure of electronic devices. That’s right, hypnotizing screens, and direct access to all the good and bad the Web has to offer.
There must be an optimal balance that factors in the personality, maturity and development of one’s kids, along with their environment.
It’s the ultimate tension: safety versus wings.
Either way, it’s important to prevent the pendulum from swinging too far to one side.
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