'Benign Neglect' Isn't a Bad Thing for Kids (or Parents)


Category:  Mental Health and Wellness

Via:  buzz-of-the-orient  •  3 years ago  •  18 comments

By:   By Katherine Martinko

'Benign Neglect' Isn't a Bad Thing for Kids (or Parents)
"Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime."

S E E D E D   C O N T E N T

'Benign Neglect' Isn't a Bad Thing for Kids (or Parents)


Little boy uses a sander.   @makenamedia via Twenty20

I recently heard a wonderful new parenting phrase that I suspect is going to become a regular addition to my vocabulary. The phrase is "benign neglect," and it refers to leaving one's children (of a responsible age, of course) free to make their own decisions, control their own time, and generally act like smaller versions of the adults they're inevitably going to become.

Jeni Marinucci, whose  story for CBC Parents  first introduced me to this phrase, described how she treats her children almost as if they were hearty houseplants: "They should be watered liberally and you should ensure they get ample sunshine. But otherwise, just let them be." From a young age, her children have been making their own hair and optometrist appointments (after she showed them how to do it) and doing their own back-to-school shopping (Marinucci pays for it):

"I set a budget, hand it over, and let [my daughter] buy her own clothes. If she wants to spend all $200 on one pair of shoes and a single sparkly pencil, that is entirely her call."

Similarly, their time is their own to use as they wish. On a lazy Saturday, it's up them to figure out a ride to the movies (bikes and helmets are in the garage!) and how to make breakfast and lunch for themselves. Marinucci said she hasn't had to wake up early on a weekend in years, ever since she taught her kids at age 4 how to get their own cereal.

The benign neglect approach may sound extreme to some readers. Indeed, one commenter on Marinucci's article accused her of neglecting to raise her children at all, which seems a bit harsh. It's true that her approach would not work for everyone, but at the very least she recognizes what so many parents these days fail to acknowledge – that our beloved children will spend a far greater percentage of their lives as adults than they will as children, so we parents neglect a fundamental requirement of our job if we fail to prepare them for that independence.

I like that benign neglect pays attention to the parental side of parenting, and does not focus entirely on the children; this, in my opinion, is something that's not discussed frequently enough. Parents desperately need a break from the micro-managing and helicopter (or  snowplow ) parenting that dominates Western culture these days, but it's unpopular to admit that. When a parent's health and happiness is ignored, it leads to stress, burnout, and resentment, none of which are helpful to a child.

"If there's anything I've learned in parenting kids for two decades, it's that you control NOTHING. I also have a driving desire to keep things as simple as possible in all areas of my life. The cliché 'work smarter, not harder' has a lot of relevance for parents. Besides, parenting is already exhausting, so why do we insist on making it harder at every turn?"

Marinucci's words reflect my own view that my job as a parent should get easier as the years go by. There are more hands to  help with chores  around the house, more willing bodies to pitch in and entertain each other, more brains thinking about solutions to problems. The most tiring years of parenting should be left behind with the diapers and car seats – but this will only happen if I hand over responsibilities to my growing children, rather than hold on to them. It's like the old proverb: "Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime."

No one has all the secrets to raising great kids and balancing the gargantuan task with one's own personal needs, but it is helpful to look around and see what others have done. If Marinucci's kids are happy and communicative, and if she, as a mother, is relaxed and well-rested, it's a safe bet that she's on to something good.


jrDiscussion - desc
Buzz of the Orient
Professor Expert
1  seeder  Buzz of the Orient    3 years ago

When I was a little kid, and we're talking around 80 years ago in the days before TV and video games, when indoor activities included mecchano and chemistry sets for rainy days, but most of the time through the 4 seasons was spent outside with neighbourhood friends or just alone.  Other than school, the only organized activity I had to bear was piano lessons, and I wasn't very good at it - only got as far as grade IV in the Conservatory program.  But I did things by myself, I built my own scooter out of a wooden orange crate, a 2x4 for a base, a stick for handlebars, and an old rollar skate taken apart and attached to front and back of the 2x4 for wheels.  I learned early on to be independant.

It looked something like this:


The car in that photo gives you an idea of how long ago kids used to do that.

But being on my own so much I got into some real trouble as well.  My mother took me to see the Disney movie "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs", where I saw the dwarfs in their mine digging out jewels from the walls.


Our immediate next door neighbour's house, right beside our driveway, had walls covered with pebbled stucco with a sprinkling of coloured glass chips.  Do you realize what went through my mind after seeing that movie?


I took a hammer, and dug a bunch of the little coloured chips of glass out of their wall, leaving big splotches of bare wood wall at just about my arm's height - When confronted, I could tell no lie, nor could I sit down for a long time - my dad did believe in corporal punishment.  Sometimes always being entirely on your own as a young kid can lead to difficulties.

Sophomore Quiet
2  MonsterMash    3 years ago

I hope Mom doesn't let her kids figure out how Dad's gun works

Buzz of the Orient
Professor Expert
2.1  seeder  Buzz of the Orient  replied to  MonsterMash @2    3 years ago

That wasn't a problem in Canada.  City dwellers VERY RARELY owned guns.  Country folk and farmers were more likely to own rifles and/or shotguns for obvious reasons.

Sophomore Quiet
3  MonsterMash    3 years ago

A Jewish boy's coming of age takes place at 13 with a Bar Mitzvah. I was raised in the country, I don't know about city kids, but my friends and I came of age at 12 or 13 when we received our first .22.  I received mine when I was 12 but wasn't allowed to use it without an adult being present until I was 13. When I was 16 I bought my first pistol, in those days (1962) there weren't any background checks and guns didn't have to be registered. I bought it without anyone with me, went in the gun shop, picked one out, paid for it and out the door

I had some Jewish friends, owning a gun was a lot more fun than having a Bar Mitzvah

Buzz of the Orient
Professor Expert
3.1  seeder  Buzz of the Orient  replied to  MonsterMash @3    3 years ago

Yeah, but having a Bar Mitzvah means getting a lot of great gifts and money.  I suppose since having a gun is a "coming of age" NECESSITY in America, a kid could get it as a Bar Mitzvah gift or buy one with the money gifts.  I certainly don't miss ever having one, (except a cap pistol that just made a lot of noise and a little smoke and of course a water pistol).  My most lethal weapon as a kid was a sling shot. 

Mark in Wyoming
Professor Silent
3.1.1  Mark in Wyoming   replied to  Buzz of the Orient @3.1    3 years ago

what I found out being a parent and later a grandparent , was the fact that all kids are curious , and they tend to want to know what the adults in their lives are doing .

being a hunting family , guns go with that with my family, so I started out with both my kids and grandkids early ( some think too early ) with taking away the curiosity and the mystery kids associate with things they dont understand .

I would include them in the trips to the range , let them pull the trigger at very young ages with me holding the firearm. and slowly after they showed they understood the principles of really safe firearms handling I graduated them to holding the weapon themselves , to finally letting them do what needed to be done themselves , all under strict supervision and range rules .

my oldest is 31 , and my youngest is 28  with one in-between 

 to all 3 they are all not afraid of firearms , to them they are tools .

 my grand kids range from 11.9 , and 6 , with the recent addition being 4 months old now .

 for the older 3 , the mystery , mystic , and curiosity of firearms is gone , to them they are the same as they are for me or their parents , tools that have a purpose .

 now someday I hope that One of those mentioned will have the love of history I had when I was younger , a number of my firearms are former military battle rifles ,  starting with 1896 moving on to an 03 , I have a M-1 carbine that was made the same month and year as my mother was born , made by underwood typewriter company, after that are civilian market knockoffs , explaining history seems to be a little easier when there is an actual and bonified artefact from that era I have found out , I also have a set of civil war bayonetes , one from the union one from the confederacy.

I have a family heirloom that was carried  by a multiple great grand parent at what was called parkers revenge when the british left concord and on their way back to Boston. my son was likely to be the last male heir to shoot it  because of its age .and I have only shot it once myself , when I turned 18.

 as far as a gun being good or bad? they are neither in my view , what is good or bad lies in the heart of the person whose hand the gun rests. and that is something I passed on to my kids and grandkids., and I hope it continues to be passed long after I am gone.

Buzz of the Orient
Professor Expert
3.1.2  seeder  Buzz of the Orient  replied to  Mark in Wyoming @3.1.1    3 years ago

Chacun a son gout, Mark.  I'm quite happy living in a country where NO civilians own guns. 

Mark in Wyoming
Professor Silent
3.1.3  Mark in Wyoming   replied to  Buzz of the Orient @3.1.2    3 years ago

And im happy for you , we just live with different ideas and a different set of circumstances and possably slightly differing values .

so yes to each to their own tastes  or to each their own..

Sophomore Quiet
3.1.4  MonsterMash  replied to  Buzz of the Orient @3.1    3 years ago
I suppose since having a gun is a "coming of age" NECESSITY in America

No, it's not a necessity, but a gun is a nice thing to have for a boy raised in the country having one brought me hours of enjoyment with my dad, brothers, and friends.

My dad was big on spending quality fun time with me and my two brothers, we did many things together besides shooting our guns, dong things with my dad and brothers was a great bonding experience. If we didn't have guns we still would have had great times together.

Sophomore Quiet
3.1.5  MonsterMash  replied to  Buzz of the Orient @3.1.2    3 years ago
I'm quite happy living in a country where NO civilians own guns. 

That you know of.

Sophomore Quiet
3.1.6  MonsterMash  replied to  Buzz of the Orient @3.1    3 years ago
I certainly don't miss ever having one, (except a cap pistol that just made a lot of noise and a little smoke and of course a water pistol)

You don't miss what you never had. Three of my Jewish friends really enjoyed shooting my rifle, in fact they all bought rifles by the time they were 16. They had no desire to shoot a Christian and I didn't want to shoot a Jew  lol

Buzz of the Orient
Professor Expert
3.1.7  seeder  Buzz of the Orient  replied to  MonsterMash @3.1.5    3 years ago

True, but in my 14 years here, I've never seen a news story, or heard, that anyone did.  

Buzz of the Orient
Professor Expert
3.1.8  seeder  Buzz of the Orient  replied to  MonsterMash @3.1.6    3 years ago

I don't think that differentiating people because of their respective religions is necessary, and I really don't understand why you are continuing doing it.

Sophomore Quiet
3.1.9  MonsterMash  replied to  Buzz of the Orient @3.1.8    3 years ago
I don't think that differentiating people because of their respective religions is necessary, and I really don't understand why you are continuing doing it.
I mentioned it because you are Jewish, I thought you knowing I have Jewish friends might help us get along better. Sorry you were offended.
Chill out, have a bagel
Sophomore Quiet
3.1.10  MonsterMash  replied to  Buzz of the Orient @3.1.7    3 years ago
True, but in my 14 years here, I've never seen a news story, or heard, that anyone did

Do you seriously think China would print or show a story about a Chinese person living in China shooting other Chinese? They would just haul the shooter off to nearest jail and execute them.

Buzz of the Orient
Professor Expert
3.1.11  seeder  Buzz of the Orient  replied to  MonsterMash @3.1.10    3 years ago

Actually, yes I DO think they would, but then I think I have a lot more knowledge about what goes on in China than you do.  They have not hesitated to print and show stories of deranged people who have broken into schools with a cleaver or knife and wounded and/or killed children, so why wouldn't they report about a gun attack?  Such a story would be a lesson to others about what happens to people who smuggle illegal guns and get caught.  

MsAubrey (aka Ahyoka)
Junior Guide
5  MsAubrey (aka Ahyoka)    3 years ago

This is an interesting subject to me. I have that personality type, what some have called, severely independent and from what my mother has stated, I was born that way. On the other hand, when I was 7 and my parents split up, my mother had no lucrative skill set. Therefore, we moved into a home where I didn't know anyone [for the record, they became my stepdad and stepbrothers]. I swore then that I would never be financially dependent on anyone else and since the age of 16, I haven't been. I even was paying rent at 16 [long story]. I didn't / don't want my kids to have it quite as rough as I did.

My mother believed in corporal punishment too; however, even then, most would deem some of her actions as abuse. My mother never wanted kids; the only reason I am here is because of my father. It's an interesting thing to be told by your mother that she never wanted children and then the actions of my father after I was born [and for 25 years afterward] were those of someone that didn't want me either. When they split up, my now stepparents certainly didn't want another child to deal with either [they each already had two boys]. I realized all of this at a pretty young age and I don't know if it was just part of my personality or what, but I thought, "f*ck em all." 

I learned how to deal on my own; get my own cereal and beverages at 3 for breakfast, because heaven forbid my mother get up before 9:30-10 am. The crazy thing is... I was born with a sleep disorder called Hypersomnia, which means I, if given the opportunity, could sleep 18 hours out of 24 even as an adult, so it's not like I was a difficult child by any means. I was sleeping more than anything else. 

Now, as a mother of two VERY different children, I can say with confidence that each one has unique needs from me as their mother. My children are from two different marriages; my eldest [my daughter] is from the first marriage and is now 17 and my son is from my second [and current] marriage and is 12 tomorrow actually. My husband (we'll say "D") and my ex-husband (we'll say "J") both have different parenting styles from each other and my own. Both D and J don't believe children should receive explanation as to why we're telling them what to do or why we're saying yes or no. However, I believe a child is human and will learn reasoning if you provide that explanation. Blind obedience is not something I condone. I want my kids to question; otherwise, they'll end up doing something that they shouldn't or simply do something because an adult said so and that can be very bad. When kids are younger, they don't need an elaborate explanation, but as they get older and need to learn more about what it is to be an adult, they absolutely should get a more elaborate explanation. D is far more worried about the kids knowing how to keep their homes neat and clean it seems though; and while yes, it's nice, I'd rather them understand that a good relationship with those in the house is more important than the few dishes in the sink. We also have my daughter's boyfriend living with us; he's 19 and he grew up in a rough household [never enough to eat, physical, verbal, and emotional abuse...]. Anyway, I'm trying to teach all of them independence. I've never been the helicopter parent. I've been letting them make decisions for a very long time. When it involves something in the home, they have input too. They need to understand choices and what outcomes each choice may provide. What may have been my choice or path may not be right for them or the one they choose.  J has a specific way he believes our daughter should be, act, react, etc. and when she doesn't fit that mold that he thinks she should fit, he gets angry. He cannot control her and who she is and the choices she makes. I've told him time and time again that she's 1/2 me and he couldn't control me; then I ask him if he couldn't control me, what makes him think he can control her? D seems to frequently compare our children to us at the same age. I've told him that he can't compare, because they are different people in different times. 

My husband wasn't independent until he moved out on his own... his dad paid for everything and his mom did everything for them. My ex wasn't independent until I divorced him and that only lasted a few years. Neither of them were ever taught how to be adults and it's noticeable in many instances. I was forced to be an adult at an early age. I've taken jobs I hate because we needed to pay bills. But because I've always done whatever it took, D didn't feel the need to do the same. I've even pointed that out to him. I went back to school so I could be more comfortable financially and I did so being married, having two children and working full time. My children witnessed that hard work and sacrifice and that's a good thing. 

My son has always been a bit more independent than my daughter; that's just one way they're different. However, between my mother and J, I partly blame them for my daughter not being as independent. They did everything for her when she was younger, which made it difficult to help her become more independent as she got older. She doesn't have much desire to get a job [and right now, I'm not stressing too bad considering the current world's situation]. Then again, she knows that she won't be able to get her license unless she has a job, because I'm NOT paying for her insurance or gas or maintenance. D and J have made it sound like I need to have her put on my insurance, but she can get her own insurance; plenty of kids get their own insurance. If they want her to have independence, she can have her own. 

Gosh this is long. Sorry. Main point, I think that "Benign Neglect" is good to a point; it also depends on the child's personality a bit and the other familial influences early on.

Buzz of the Orient
Professor Expert
5.1  seeder  Buzz of the Orient  replied to  MsAubrey (aka Ahyoka) @5    3 years ago

Yes, it is quite a story. But you have made your feelings about "benign neglect" and how that applies to you and your family quite clear.  


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