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Parents Blog

Susan Boyd blogs on every Monday. A dedicated mother and wife, Susan offers a truly unique perspective into the world of a "Soccer Mom." 
Opinions expressed on the US Youth Soccer Blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of US Youth Soccer.


Not Easy to Say Goodbye

Susan Boyd

When kids first start playing soccer it’s all about friends and fun. Six-year-olds aren’t thinking about World Cups and professional teams. They may not even be able to name a single soccer player of note. But they love getting out on the field, screeching and running with their buddies. Eventually, they also enjoy the thrill of scoring a goal, high-fiving everyone, and then rushing to the sidelines for a treat after the game. There’s something pure and special about those early years in soccer when the only stress might be getting to the fields on time. Unfortunately, as kids grow so do their differences to the point that eventually friends have to make difficult choices between staying together or leaving. In some cases they have to say goodbye because friends have developed faster in skill or passion and move on to more intense teams, or our kids may be the ones moving on. In other cases, the decision to change teams is driven by finances. When it comes time to separate, no matter the reason, it can be traumatic. How do we decide as a family whether or not to make that break? And should we do it, how do we help our children cope with losing their friends?

The most common reasons for kids to leave a sport are boredom and developing a stronger interest in another activity. It should be an easy choice to quit under these circumstances both for kids and parents, but friendships complicate the break. There’s a strong tug to stay in a safe circle of peers where kids feel accepted. Although we might think this is primarily a female situation, the reality is that boys can feel just as insecure about leaving a circle of friends. Often, boys’ status is established in athletic terms, so even if they hate playing a sport they may be reluctant to give it up. We parents worry about peer pressure, but peer status can be just as powerful and therefore just as detrimental to a child’s development. Kids can make fun of kids who quit teams. This behavior can stem from their own feelings of abandonment from someone they thought was a loyal friend. As parents we need to let our children know that they can’t take a friend’s departure personally. It’s not meant to slight them or diminish the quality of their friendship. It can be difficult to accept that assessment, especially if they have played together for several years. And friendships do end when such a large chunk of children’s free time is spent away from each other.

Parents may also discourage their children from quitting a team due to the same powerful peer influences. They want their kids to be part of the “in-crowd.” I always urge parents to require that kids finish their commitments. Some wise coaches have stated that if you quit now you’ll quit things all your life. So parents should insist their kids finish a season. But if a child shifts focus and wants to try something different, then we shouldn’t stand in their way. Not all kids are meant to be athletes. Certainly kids should continue to participate in physical conditioning, but that may not be on an organized soccer team. Studies indicate that kids who feel comfortable pursuing their favorite interests ultimately have more confidence and self-esteem. While being part of the popular group can be satisfying, it’s less so when kids are ingratiating themselves into the mix. They can feel more like outsiders that way than when not in the troop. However, we also have to be sensitive to friendships.

The nature of growing up means that kids grow apart in interests and skills. But other factors intervene in disrupting friendships. Kids move often these days. My grandsons have lived in four different communities in two different states for the course of their sports life. They’ve had to reestablish themselves each time on teams and in situations where coaches already know and trust certain players. They gave up good friendships in those moves and lost some time when developing as players. However, they also learned patience and humility in those situations. Kids are resilient, so they do make new friends, but there can be pain as friendship dissolve. That can also happen when parents don’t have the means to keep their kids in expensive programs. Those are tough decisions for everyone involved. But ultimately the solvency of the family is worth more than the ego boost of being in a top program. I can name dozens of Robbie’s friends who went on to play college soccer without the benefit of being in expensive clubs. Bryce played in a Serbian club where the cost was only $150 a year plus whatever costs were associated with tournament travel. The club tried to go to tournaments within driving distance, but also that were college scouting tournaments. Writing letters to coaches and providing game film beforehand did entice a number of coaches to come check out games at these tournaments and five players on the team got offers. So parents shouldn’t feel that if their child has talent they are thwarting that talent by not putting their child on a top level club team. However, these decisions can mean that friendships get strained and even broken. Parents need to be ready to help facilitate the continuation of friendships if possible or sooth the loss of a friend.

The most painful way that friends can be separated is when one excels more than another. It’s difficult to be on either side of the equation. We expect that once kids get closer to high school age that they will face the dilemma of either being selected or not for their friends’ team. We hope they are better equipped to handle not only the possible disappointment of being rejected but the ensuing disconnect from long-term friends. However, more and more clubs decide to create powerhouse teams as early as age 10. If our children are among those being “recruited” there can be a great deal of resentment from other teammates and parents. And if our kids aren’t selected there’s disappointment intermingled with leaving friends. It’s a difficult quandary. While we want our kids to have the best opportunities if they are skilled enough to take them, we also recognize the inherent unfairness of the practice and the detriment to friendships. This is happening at an age when teams are supposed to be talent neutral until they could be selected at U-11. Robbie’s club decided to create a U-11 team from two U-9 teams that had a number of strong players. We parents were skeptical until we were assured that with the larger roster at U-11 no kid would be left behind. However, it didn’t happen that way. One boy and one boy only was left off the roster. We protested, but his parents were so hurt they decided to leave the club. These were supposed to be his friends, and now they had betrayed him. The episode casts an ugly light on a fact of youth sports – friendships can shift abruptly and unpleasantly. The longer kids stay in the sport the more this scenario will play out. Giving up the comfort of a community even if being promoted can be difficult.

The good news is that with social media it’s easier for kids to stay in touch and maintain friendships. Robbie regularly texts with his friends from various clubs. He only played a year at UC-Santa Barbara but he has strong friendships with teammates from there, returning periodically to California to visit with them. On Bryce’s recreation team, the players were classmates and neighbors, bonding strongly. However, one boy was not athletic at all and quickly fell behind. His mother was distraught because she saw the handwriting on the wall. She didn’t want him to be, as she considered it, ostracized by his lack of athleticism. But he was extremely artistic and she herself was an artist. Eventually she realized that he was happier in creative pursuits, and he even expressed to his mom that he didn’t like soccer. Leaving the team meant he did leave the group of players, but several of them continued their friendships with him because they shared other interests, attended school together, and met at the community pool in the summer. In fact, in middle school Bryce reconnected with him because they both loved making videos and spent one summer creating a film using several of the former teammates as actors.

Friendship can be fluid, but can also be an influencing condition for many kids and their parents. Sports teams are meant to create strong bonds among players, and those bonds may signify a social status as well. Therefore leaving a team for any reason becomes problematic when it comes to psychological impacts. If someone is cut from a team, there’s not only the loss of the companionship of teammates but the sense of failure and inadequacy. If kids move on to a higher level, they may feel the loss of the support system they had, guilt over leaving, and harbor a lack of confidence going into the new arena. As parents we need to be sensitive to how losing a team can affect our kids and be willing to listen to their concerns. We can also help them continue to foster those relationships by having kids over to share popcorn and a movie or just hang out. The parent network can be invaluable at times like this. Keeping in touch with the parents of old teammates allows us to facilitate the kids maintaining the friendship. Don’t forget old teammates when making the invitation list for a birthday or summer pool party. Letting kids express frustration without interjecting our opinion can be invaluable in diffusing bad feelings. Likewise we need to be open to them making other choices and not making popularity a deciding factor in how our kids move forward. Putting pressure on them to stay on a team for social reasons can thwart passions they should be expressing and they will undoubtedly eventually find their friends abandoning them anyway. They are young for such a short time, they should enjoy it with friends as long as possible.

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It Takes a Village

Susan Boyd

We raise our kids within the confines of social, institutional and family discipline. Every day we turn over the shaping of our children’s moral compass and boundaries to teachers, coaches, clergy, police, neighbors, media, peers, and outside pundits in the field of child rearing. We can set limits, model behaviors, instruct, and demand, but kids ultimately have so many influences that they begin to pick and choose which ideas suit them best and will get them in the least amount of trouble. Peer pressure in particular, often fueled by media stimuli, can be a powerful arbiter of behavior. Parents have a difficult time getting our kids to understand and accept what we consider to be appropriate conduct when there are so many opposing forces out there. It may take a village to help raise our kids, but the village may also hinder how we want them to develop.

I grew up raised by everyone in our family circle. Aunts, uncles, grandparents never hesitated to put in their two cents’ worth, even right in front of my parents. Neighbors would freely give me a swat on the behind if I trampled in their garden or threw dirt at their kids, and they had no fear that my mother would report them to the police. Instead, she was grateful that they had handled it immediately. But we’ve moved from an acceptance of that type of discipline. In fact, if someone accuses our kids of something, all too often the knee-jerk reaction is “not my kid.” We’ve become apologists for behavior that used to be completely unacceptable because when our kids are bad, it reflects badly on us. I’m not in favor of corporal punishment, and I’m sure the psychological studies on how it affects our children’s self-image are true, but I also know that most of my peers grew up feeling the sting of a hand or spoon on our hind quarters and we still managed to become an innovative, confident generation.

Recently during the unrest in Baltimore a video went viral of a mother running out into the crowd of young rioters who were throwing bottles and rocks to drag her 16-year-old son back home, cuffing him several times around the ears. As she put it, “I didn’t raise him to be disrespectful to the police…and I didn’t want him to be another [victim].”  Her tiger mom response drew lots of opposing points of view equally divided between those who praised her for giving her son an important lesson and dragging him to safety and those who saw her attack as damaging and an inappropriate way to handle the situation. As I told my boys – I’d have done the same thing minus the slapping. They nodded knowingly. On the other hand, would she have wanted the village to intervene?  If her neighbor had seen the teen and gone to drag him back, would the mother have been thankful or angry?  It gets complicated.

When it comes to youth sports there’s an entire extra layer of discipline that’s added, sometimes not as we would hope. Coaches can forget that their charges are not adults, using the saltiest of language when motivating or chastising them. It’s uncomfortable for parents, who want to respect the authority of a coach to train, but want to protect their kids from influences they feel are improper. One time my 6-year-old grandson was playing a game on my phone. When he achieved a high score, he could input his name on a roster of winners. The game was a very innocent non-violent offering from Disney, so imagine my surprise when I saw the top scorers list where all the names were four letters long and not names at all. When I asked my grandson, he admitted with a sly grin to inputting the titles. I knew his parents didn’t swear, didn’t allow him to see anything with swearing (even bleeped out), and he went to a Catholic school. “Where did you learn these words?” fully expecting to find out he had some peers who used them. “My T-ball coach says them all the time.” How can a parent combat that? You can approach the coach, point out that his or her language makes your child uncomfortable, and hope things improve. If the reaction isn’t positive, then you can talk to the club president or board. Or you can use it as a teachable moment – explain to our children how limiting and disgusting such language is and let them know you don’t approve, especially if they should start repeating the words.

A more pressing problem would be if the coach gets abusive. Unfortunately, it happens all too often. Coaches can be very passionate people, but when that passion spills over to physically or verbally accosting kids, we need to step in. That type of behavior is not an acceptable response no matter the age, but particularly for our youngest players. One coach berated an 11-year-old player for five minutes as the reason the team lost the game, totally devastated the trembling boy. His parents were angry, but so were several of us. We took it upon ourselves to confront the coach so the parents didn’t have to. Therefore, the coach couldn’t rationalize that the parents had sour grapes motivating their complaint. Instead he had to listen to us parents who witnessed the attack and agreed it was cruel and unnecessary. That’s how the village can step up in a supportive and significant way. Even if our own children aren’t victims of an aggressive coach, we should be advocates for the kids who are. It’s difficult because we don’t want our intervention to affect our children’s role on a team. Coaches have a tremendous amount of power leading to intimidation, so if parents can join forces and come to the coach calmly and kindly, that intimidation is voided.

Taking the protection and/or discipline of other people’s children can be tricky. I can shift into “mom” mode when I see trouble. I took the cigarettes of three pre-teen boys sitting next to me at a Brewers’ game (when you could still smoke in the stadium) and told them I didn’t think their mother would approve. Maybe she would have, or maybe she would have resented me stepping in, but I felt I needed to at least give those kids pause the next time they lit up. I also wanted to go give whatever shopkeeper sold those kids the cigarettes a piece of my mind. The village is only as strong as its weakest members. On the flipside not everyone is on the same page when it comes to the standards we want for our children. Entrusting our children to others can be tricky. We don’t want to be handing out a list of expectations for the kids:  No candy, only G or PG movies, no swearing, no political discussions, etc. We can quickly get a reputation as being overprotective. Therefore, I think that as part of the village we need to check out with other parents if certain things are okay – we plan to go to a PG-13 movie; is that okay with you?  As much as we hate having our kids exposed to things we carefully avoid, we should be sensitive to what other parents want. It can be as simple as making sure team snacks have a peanut-free option, for example, and as significant as helping parents out with carpooling.

On the positive side, youth sports provide some excellent additional training. Kids learn how to cooperate, compromise, win and lose with dignity, avoid cheating, and other important moral lessons. Naturally, as they grow, more and more negative influences will seep into their experiences. These can then become teachable moments. Since my sons are minorities, they faced a fair amount of racial slurs during games. They learned that this was more a way to get into their heads than personal attacks, so eventually they could shut it out. It didn’t make it right that it happened, but it also gave them the resilience to learn which battles to fight. At one college game when Bryce was in goal, the opposing school’s students sat behind the net jeering and cat-calling. At one point they yelled out, not knowing it was true, “Bryce, you’re adopted” obviously believing this would be huge slap in the face. Since everyone on his team knew he was adopted, one defender turned around and shouted back to the students, “Yeah he is and his family is awesome,” while the entire team clapped. Apparently those young men had learned the lessons of support and rejecting intolerance, and I suspect some of the lessons were learned on the field. That’s a village in which I was delighted to be a resident.

Discipline is a personal process for every family. Yet we can’t control the vast majority of time our children require discipline. We have to count on a myriad of other disciplinarians. Usually we can trust those people to do the right thing; after all many of them have their own children whom they raised well. Of course, we’ve all experienced those times when parents don’t manage their own kids, leaving them to run wild in a restaurant, cause trouble at the pool, cry during a movie, and any number of other annoying situations. The question is do we intervene?  We’re part of the larger village, but we may not be a welcomed part. Likewise, we may not appreciate the behavior modeling and discipline of others within our village. Yet it’s difficult to reject someone’s intervention when it’s well-meaning. Even more difficult is figuring out if what another parent accuses our child of doing is valid or not. We don’t want to be so defensive that we miss the bigger picture – our children need to be accountable for their misdeeds. The good news is that youth sports adds a significant and powerful layer of modeling and oversight which is generally very positive in the development of our children’s ethical nature. We should all let it be known that we welcome the oversight of our children by others. Despite the eyes in the back of our heads we can’t see everything. We need to trust family, friends, neighbors, police, teachers, clergy, and strangers to help us out in keeping our children on the straight and narrow, not to mention safe. No village is perfect, but I’m grateful for their assistance.

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Everybody Plays

Susan Boyd

It’s easy to give attention to our young player as he or she sprints across the field during practices and matches, but when their siblings have to come along they end up in the shadow of that activity. Even if they have an interest in soccer, it can still be incredibly boring to wait out their brother’s or sister’s pursuit without much to do. The roles may get reversed during the week, but it still doesn’t resolve the 90 minutes to two hours of boredom during any particular practice or game. It’s to our benefit to find ways to engage all our kids during those times so we don’t have to deal with resistance when it’s time to fly out the door and pouting while at the scene.

The most obvious way to involve all our children is to bring an extra soccer ball. There’s usually a small patch of open space where kids can kick, dribble, and pass. Having Mom and Dad join in for a few minutes of play can certainly make them feel engaged and special. During half-time, even at college matches, kids are often invited on the field for part of the break where they can try their hand at scoring and stopping goals or dribbling as fast as possible down the field. Additionally, it’s a great surface for cartwheels, wrestling, and jumping. So having a soccer ball handy can shift spectator kids into participants, giving them a moment to shine.

If soccer really isn’t their thing at all, there is plenty of active play that kids can do while waiting for practice to end. A soft ball to play catch makes a great way to pass the time and to share in family fun. Frisbees provide another source of entertainment and are easy to pack into the car. There are also dozens of other games you can bring along. Walgreens sells a set of fuzzy discs with several Velcro balls that people can toss back and forth and catch on the discs all of which are also easy to pack away. More elaborate, but fun for everyone, is the bean bag toss which consists of two wooden targets with a hole in each. You set them about 25 feet apart and players take turns flinging the bags into the holes to achieve the highest total. This game is bulkier, but very popular for tailgating, tournaments, and block parties. You can even get the game with your favorite team logos and colors or purchase a blank wooden one and apply your own decals. Games range from $30 to $100 depending on how sturdy. My grandkids love to play the “running game.” We decide on a course and they run it while I time them. They try to beat one another’s time, but more importantly they try to beat their own times. It’s an easy thing for me to watch whoever is competing on the soccer field while also manning the stop watch for their runs. An added benefit is that everyone is at the same level of exhaustion at the end of a practice or match.

Since you have to be outside, you may as well make good use of the opportunity to do things you can’t do in the house. I keep a roll of butcher paper around with a set of tempera paints that the kids can mix at the fields. They can be as unrestrained in their artistic efforts as they want, including splashing the paint off their brushes, drizzling paint, and finger painting. Once they are done with their artwork, we tear it off the roll, toss the paints, and wipe off their hands with a towel. If the fields are at a park that has extra natural areas like woods or a pond, kids can do a nature scavenger hunt. I tell them to find certain plants, insects, or creatures and armed with buckets and jars off they go. Everything has to be released at the end of the search, but they have a great time looking for items. You can spruce it up as a tic-tac-toe game where item names are in squares and as they locate them they can cross off the item with an X or an O hoping to get three in a row or block their opponents’ attempts. You can bring along some squirt guns if there’s a source of water available and let the kids battle one another away from the crowds. I don’t suggest the big squirt guns, in fact I only carry the little “derringer” style that you can buy at party stores for about $3 for six. They can’t accidently shoot long distances hitting unsuspecting fans and since they need to fill up regularly, it makes them develop strategy and even teamwork.

If you prefer that your kids not roam away from the sidelines, you can bring quiet activities for them. They probably won’t want to do homework, but the time is a good opportunity to get that done if you can convince them, especially if it simply entails a worksheet or reading. More detailed homework is probably best done at home with resources available. Otherwise, kids could bring favorite books, coloring books, even an iPod for music. Some kids have handheld video game units that they may want to use the free time for, knowing that once they get home TV and games will be off the schedule until homework is finished. I don’t suggest bringing crafts that can be easily lost like beading, however, Rainbow Looms would probably work if you have a storage box for the rubber bands. I have seen kids at games with electronic tablets on which they watch movies and TV shows. But I’ve also seen tablets dropped and cracked accidently and on occasion I watched frantic parents searching for a misplaced tablet. So that may not be a suitable option unless you know that your kids are responsible enough for them. Some kids like to have the job of ball boys and girls, which is often appreciated during a match. Be sure you check with the coach and the officials before assuming that they should participate in that way. At my grandsons’ baseball games, one parent brings a scoreboard that has rotating wheels to display runs, strikes, and outs. Usually the job of operating that scoreboard goes to one or two of the youngsters. They love being in charge, and I’m impressed with how well they do the job. Adults oversee it, but they usually end up being distracted by conversations and field activity while the kids stay focused on the numbers.

Finally, another option is to find parallel activities for the kids where you can drop them off on the way to the fields and pick them up on the way home. In our town we have a pottery shop that welcomes kids to come paint plaster objects. The purchase price includes paints and kiln glazing. It usually takes kids around two hours to complete a project, so it can be a distraction that fits in the time schedule. You may also consider a homework center where kids can go to complete their homework, get extra tutoring for tough subjects, and do some extra credit work. These classes can be regularly scheduled or set up occasionally. Most towns have at least one center or there are tutors you can hire to come to the house. In either case, your kids are supervised and are participating in fun and worthwhile behaviors. Organizing play dates for kids while their siblings compete on the pitch gives everyone the attention they deserve. When it comes to summer tournaments, parents can look for residential camps for the sideline buddies to attend while we travel to watch our soccer player. Or we could do a swap, traveling to one tournament while a teammate’s family takes the siblings, then staying home for the next tournament to take in the teammate’s siblings. If you can arrange for your club to attend some fun tournament locations, then everyone will be cool with a few hours of whiling away the time since everyone gets to go to the ocean or the Magic Kingdom after the matches. If the entire family comes along for tournaments, be sure to plan something fun to do each day by learning about points of interest along the way and at the tournament venue as well as bringing along some things to do during the matches.

If we’re honest, we’ll admit that practices and matches aren’t always engaging even for us, especially when our own kids aren’t on the field. So it’s no wonder that the siblings with far less investment in the events can be at loose ends and hate being dragged along even if that’s the only choice for parents. Therefore, finding some options for them while on the sidelines makes the experience much more fun for everyone. They’re distracted and happy, and we don’t have to deal with whining and melt downs. We can make our kids responsible for collecting the items they want to have at the fields so we don’t have even more things to keep track of. On the other hand, I like to keep a seasonal soccer box in the trunk of my car, so you may want to create a “fun” box that always comes along. No matter how we provide some entertainment for the spectating kids, it’s important to do so. Making sure everyone has a good experience guarantees a lot less stress when setting out for the fields.

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Changing with the Times

Susan Boyd

Recently I heard humorist Dave Barry talking about growing up decades ago. He remarked that he and his siblings would go out during the day and be expected to return “by September.” Such was the bucolic life in the 1950s and 1960s for youngsters. This is the atmosphere under which I grew up and thrived. My brothers and I walked a mile and a half to school every morning and home every night through areas that were isolated and desolate, but no one ever thought that it was unsafe. I’m sure there were kids who went missing or were clearly abducted during the years I grew up, especially because I lived near Seattle and the large populations growing around Lake Washington, but we never heard of such cases. The most notable excitement in my young life was when some teens were joy-riding in a Thunderbird, took the turn up the hill behind our house much too fast and sailed over the embankment into a tree. My mom called the police but I never learned what happened to those kids – it was simply a moral tale my father pounded into us when he got home about the dangers of breaking the law.

My brothers played Little League, but my father only attended one game. He announced at the dinner table that the people at the games were crazy and refused to be in their company. I had attended the game with him and there were three other parents and a smattering of siblings. Not sure where the “crazy” came from although I’m sure he’d be totally mortified if he had ever attended one of his grandson’s soccer games. Instead of being carpooled to the practices and games, my brothers rode their bikes straddling their bats across the handle bars and hanging their gloves on the bat grip. My mother didn’t have a car to drive them and besides she was busy making dinner. I played volleyball in high school and skied. My parents never attended one of my competitions and just that one of my brothers, yet we never felt neglected; it was rare for parents to be around.

Every Saturday, my two oldest brothers and I received 50 cents each and marched down our hill to the local movie house. There were always two films, at least one cartoon, and a serial that ended on what we all assumed was an unresolvable cliff-hanger. It cost a quarter to get in, so we had a quarter each for snacks. We stayed from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. living on popcorn, soda, and candy for lunch. We had no cell phones, so absolutely no way for my mother to know if we had arrived at the theater safely. When we came home she was usually vacuuming to the sounds of “Saturday at the Met.” Beginning at age 8, I traveled three hours via train from Seattle to Bellingham to attend summer camp. The train stopped at least a dozen times on the journey, and I was totally unsupervised. Usually there were a few other campers on the train, and later my brothers joined me. Nevertheless there was no hesitation. I’m not sure my parents even got a call that I had arrived. It was all normal, expected, and entirely without drama or fear.

There’s a 20-year separation between our oldest daughter and our youngest son, so I have experienced the changes in how we parent. The transition I’ve observed has been both involvement and protectiveness. While I played volleyball and skied competitively, no one attended my games. A generation later, attendance was common. Shane was on the swim team as the long-distance entrant and her event always fell at the end of any competition, so I was often left alone with five or six other parents cheering on their 20 lap swimmers. She also was a cheerleader, so we were “obliged” to attend every game at which the squad performed. No parent considered missing an event. But parents didn’t attend practices. The change I saw once our sons began sports was that practices were populated with adults often just visiting with one another, but nonetheless present. The first field Bryce and Robbie played on was just down the road in our subdivision, so I sent them to practice on their bikes, just as I had done and the girls had done years earlier. But I quickly learned that I was being judged as standoffish and even an uncaring parent for not being with the other guardians down at the field, so instead of making dinner, writing, or just taking a breather for myself, I took my soccer chair and joined in. By the time the boys played at the local university, we attended all games, home and away, but of course we were now empty-nesters with the time to indulge in such activities.

Going along with being everywhere with the kids comes hovering. They call us parents helicopters, and I’ve been there, done that, even though I wasn’t that way with my daughters. It’s amazing how powerful parental peer pressure can be. Where I never had any help with or even reminder of school projects and followed this model with my daughters, I quickly saw that if I didn’t help out, the boys would be left in the dust of well-constructed poster boards and crisply polished classroom speeches. I never kept a calendar, but by the time the boys entered school I had three calendars around the house, outside cubbies and chest of drawers to organize the sports equipment, a box to hold all the notes and permission slips I had to sign, and long-term project reminders. Whether I wanted to hover or not was not the point – it just came with the territory. While I never played sports until high school and only had piano lessons after school once a week and a sewing class when I was 8 (all of which I was on my own to get to), the girls had voice and dancing lessons that I drove them to, and then the explosion came with the boys. There was a smorgasbord of sports, all of which everyone seemed to play, music lessons, Spanish lessons, tutoring, service projects, camps, and science group. Despite working full-time, I still had to find time to drive them everywhere. And as much as I resisted overscheduling, it was difficult to avoid when all their friends were participating and begging them to join in. I did hold firm on one sport per season, but that was my last bastion of resistance.

Along with the eruption of activities came a more global immersion in experiences. Some were positive – going to play soccer in England and Spain, learning about world events, sharing experiences with exchange students – but there were serious negatives. Suddenly we parents were made aware of all the dangers lurking out there. CNN began in 1980, a 24-hour news service that was hungry for content to fill all those hours. A war in Iraq helped, but the corners were stuffed with stories of kids missing and/or abused. What we blissfully weren’t acutely aware of, now became daily fodder. It wasn’t that pedophiles and non-custodial parents were born in the last few decades; it was that we learned about all of them, no matter where in the world they existed. I know I grew up with kids from abusive households, but no one talked about it. That’s an improvement that the media has helped, getting us out of the isolation. But we also became more fearful and cautious. The growth of social media fed these fears, but also helped resolved them. Amber Alerts began in 1996 and are credited with many cases of saving lives, and when they could not save lives, in apprehending perpetrators.

Cell phones allowed us and our children to have quick and important connections, which should have encouraged more freedom, but I still see caution. Phones became the instant recorder of every foible and tragedy. The proliferation of security cameras now catch us in our weakest moments, shining a bright light on our mistakes and creating instant shame. Likewise these images can be of horror, misuse of power, and crimes in progress giving us some measure of control and even more reasons to worry. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reports these facts:  they received reports of nearly 467,000 entries in 2014 for missing and exploited children, but less than 100 were murdered; their recovery rate for finding children has grown from 62 percent in 1990 to 97 percent now; 758 children have been recovered as a direct result of Amber Alerts. Very few children are abducted by strangers, with the statistics at one-hundredth of one percent translating to 115 kids last year. While abducted children seems to be increasing, that impression is a product of wider reporting. In reality missing children are down 31 percent between 1997 and 2011 and all crimes against children are dropping according to the FBI. The lower numbers can be attributed to cell phones, which help law enforcement track kids and help kids call for assistance. Teaching kids to avoid strangers may not be much of a solution since the majority of child abductions are not by strangers but by people the child knows. However, the stranger abductions get the most press because they seem the most nefarious. Again cell phones can be the best prevention no matter who the abductor might be.

I will admit that when Shane went alone to Nepal a month before her 11th birthday to visit her best friend Cassie I did have a moment of pause. Even though Cassie had been going to Nepal every year alone since she was 6, I wasn’t totally convinced that this was the best plan for my daughter. However, when considering that I rode a train at 8 alone where there were stops as compared to a plane that took off from one spot, was sealed to all outside influence for the journey, and then arrived to a spot where trusted people would meet her, I was convinced it wasn’t a bad idea. In fact, she had a blast. Cassie met her at the airport with an elephant they rode into Kathmandu, an adventure few of us will ever experience, much less at age 11. Deana went to performing arts high school 1,500 miles away when she was 14. Robbie flew to National Team tryouts at 14, and he and Bryce went to play with the Queens Park Rangers youth team at 13 and 15, respectively, thanks to a friend who bought an interest in the club and invited them to come participate. These adventures on their own taught my children independence, problem-solving, and self-confidence. Instead of holding them back because of fears, I sent them off because of opportunities. I never wore a bike helmet and fell off my bike twice with serious injuries, there were no seat belts in our cars growing up so I was lucky to never be in an accident and risk being thrown from the car, and I spent hours on my own getting to school, lessons, and activities because my mother had four other kids and a foster son and no car. So, she had no time and no means to provide me with transportation. Because I could drive my kids to places it opened up their opportunities but restricted their self-reliance. Therefore it was important that I give to them times to be independent and find their own way in the world. I credit soccer with providing my boys the experiences that fostered resourcefulness. Youth soccer can give them confidence both on and off the field, teaching them to rely on their wits and teaching them how to recover from failings.

Therefore, I absolutely encourage parents to relinquish some of their control and allow kids to navigate both actually and symbolically to and through their activities. I know how difficult it is because we watch the other “stage parents” manipulating and improving their kids’ situations and worry that our own children will fall behind. But I can speak from experience that those players whose parents spoke to the coaches, insisted on playing time, decided the clubs and positions they would play, and analyzed every game watched their children either burn out or be ill-equipped to handle adversity or both. In the end these kids quit. Helicopter parents prevent their kids from developing the skills to resolve problems and set and achieve their own goals. Except for a brief time for Bryce, none of my children went pro in their chosen activities (even Deana had gotten an audition with American Ballet Theater and decided it wasn’t for her), but they are successful and happy in life, which is really what we all want. Fame seems wonderful, but it can be fleeting. Figuring out how to stretch a quarter to get the most treats at the theater has held me in good stead for decades.

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