Fairhaven Blog

Fostering Independence

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“Parents investigated for neglect after letting kids walk home alone.” A recent, local event quickly created a national debate about two purported extremes of parenting: “free range parenting” and “helicopter parenting.” Since Fairhaven School has been designed to foster independence in its young people since we opened in 1998, we have followed this debate with interest.

On the one hand, we see the growing tendencies of parents to control, monitor, and dictate the experiences and education of their children. Between school, after-school activities, and summer programs, many parents see their primary role as ensuring that the lives of their children are filled with the right activities. Crucially, these parents often try to shield their children from failure or risk of any kind. Notwithstanding the commonplace shepherding through elementary and high school, we now hear stories of parents inserting themselves into even the college lives of their offspring! Although the examples and patterns of so-called helicopter parenting continue to proliferate, evidence of actual, successful, independent people resulting from this cultural shift is lacking. Indeed, the opposite seems to be occurring.

Lessons in "No"

The Kitchen Corporation at Fairhaven School had organized its annual trip to serve sandwiches to the needy clients of the Lighthouse Shelter in Annapolis. With money they had raised by selling meals and cookies to fellow School Meeting members throughout the year, they had made thirty lunches, and their youngest, most enthusiastic member was chomping at the bit to go outside the office.

Then the staff member organizing the trip realized that the student had been recently referred to School Meeting and was, therefore,  not allowed to go on field trips. Tempted to stave off his disappointment, my colleague considered writing herself up for violating the “no field trips when referred” policy and taking the consequences in JC ( Judicial Committee) afterwards. The student, all of seven years old, took the setback in stride, tears welling in his eyes, only asking for mint chocolate chip ice cream from their traditional post-service celebration, and here was another lesson in “no” for a Fairhaven School student.

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