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Have you heard of a parenting style called benign neglect? It could be described as the opposite of helicopter parenting – parents instead leave kids to their own devices, to create their own play and solve their own problems.

It’s not about ignoring kids, it’s about recognizing that independence is a good thing. And, frankly, it’s also about recognizing that parents are busy, too. As blogger Carrie of Natural Moms Talk Radio put it:

… calling a mom lazy because she cleaned her house instead of doing crafts with the kids all day? I don’t think so. I think benign neglect makes kids more independent. My kids very rarely ever say the dreaded words around me (I’m bored). Probably because they know I always assign some chore when they say that.  

The idea of benign neglect has been around for a while. There are several online references to Mothering Magazine articles from the 1990s which address this subject. But we can always count on experts to validate/invalidate parenting techniques. A recent story in the BBC says that keeping kids busy all the time is bad for imagination and creativity.

KIDS

LEFT TO THEIR OWN DEVICES, THEY COME UP WITH THE DARNDEST THINGS – PHOTO: RUMPLETEASER

After interviewing artists about their childhood, Dr. Teresa Belton of the University of East Anglia’s School of Education and Lifelong Learning found that creative people experiencing a “lack of things to do” led to expression, as was the case with writer and actress Meera Syal: in her case, hours of solitude and reflection as a child led to her writing. Belton in this BBC report:

Lack of things to do spurred (Syal) to talk to people she would not otherwise have engaged with and to try activities she would not, under other circumstances, have experienced, such as talking to elderly neighbours and learning to bake cakes.

Boredom is often associated with solitude and Syal spent hours of her early life staring out of the window across fields and woods, watching the changing weather and seasons. 

But importantly boredom made her write. She kept a diary from a young age, filling it with observations, short stories, poems, and diatribe. And she attributes these early beginnings to becoming a writer late in life.

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