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Unsupervised Play and Losing Friends

Dr. Catherine Pearlman on

Dear Family Coach: My children are grown now, but I feel deeply concerned by the hypervigilance that I see in today's parenting style. Playing unsupervised and out of sight of adults, and simply spending time alone (outdoors mostly) was crucial to my childhood years and my children's early years. Do you consider it a problem that today's children are growing up with almost no chance for unsupervised play and/or being alone? -- Home Alone

Dear Alone: The days when parents said "be home by dinner" are long gone. Sadly, children today rarely have time to just play, let alone do it unsupervised. Most kids are booked solid with homework, tutors, sports, piano and karate. For most kids, unstructured playtime is lost by middle school.

By the time I was 13 years old, I babysat a newborn and her sibling all by myself. I rode my bicycle to my friends' houses and walked to the corner store for snacks. Nowadays parents would hardly leave a 13-year-old home alone. Times have changed, and I don't necessarily think for the better. Your concern is my concern, too.

When children are allowed to play without their parents hovering, they manage relationships better. They solve problems on their own. They explore, learn and usually have a ball with their friends. Sure, kids need to be safe. But in most parts of America, it really isn't more dangerous now than it was decades ago. Cellphones help parents keep in touch in ways my parents couldn't.

I'd love to see children have more unstructured, unsupervised, unmanaged time. Kids love that kind of freedom. It gives them such a sense of accomplishment. And, more importantly, having to fend for themselves helps kids prepare for adulthood. Parents need to remember that they are raising children to become capable adults. They shouldn't wait until the child is in college to give them some room to stretch their wings.

Dear Family Coach: My younger daughter has had a tough year. She is mid-identity development, and some of the identities she tries on are bratty and rude. A mom of one of her friends (whose daughter is a perfect angel and would never dream of doing some of the things my kid does) told me that they are tolerating my daughter because they know we are working on it at home. If we weren't, they would have given up on her and de-friended her. How can I handle this friendship from here on out? -- Getting By

Dear Getting By: Your daughter may be trying on new identities, but I think her social skills are lacking a bit as well. Being rude to friends isn't a good way to keep them. While this mother's comment is hurtful, it sounds like she is trying to be helpful.

I doubt her daughter enjoys it when your daughter is unpleasant. And yet, she is still trying to keep up her friendship. Not all has to be lost here. I'd try to use their connection to help your daughter learn to be a better friend. Ask this mom whether the two of you might work together to support your daughter more on play dates. You might also practice being a good friend when alone with your daughter at home. Play around with roles, and try to laugh and have fun.

If your daughter starts losing friends, stops getting invited to parties and seems to be struggling, I'd check in with the teacher and a counselor to see whether you could help her work through her stumbling block right now.


Dr. Catherine Pearlman, the founder of The Family Coach, LLC, advises parents on all matters of child rearing. To write to Dr. Pearlman, send her an email at To find out more about Dr. Catherine Pearlman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

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