Idle Parenting Means Happy Children - Tom Hodgkinson

Hodgkinson authored 'The Idle Parent," among other titles. You may get a copy from

A Twitter acquaintance posted a 2008 Telegraph article by Tom Hodgkinson about "idle parenting" and how effective it is in raising happy children. By happy, Hodgkinson meant children who can make decisions for themselves; children who are self-reliant and not too dependent on their parents or other people to feel secure and content. Sounds exactly how you want your child to grow up to be right? So what exactly is "idle parenting"?

The idea of "idle parenting" was based on an essay by DH Lawrence, Education of the People, published in 1918. The basic principle is to give children the chance to grow on their own without parents dictating who or what they are supposed to be. Hodgkinson stresses that carefree does not necessarily mean careless, saying that idle parenting does not mean letting children run around in soiled diapers or having them jumping out of our windows.

Idle parenting adheres to three basic rules in educating and raising a child: 
1. Leave him alone.
2. Leave him alone; and 
3. Leave him alone.

Are you an overzealous parent?
Overzealous parents might likely go ballistic upon hearing the concept of allowing their children to fend for themselves. I, however, found myself quite interested and looking with a little more appreciation to how my own parents most of the time just left me and siblings to play and do our own thing when we were younger. I was the eldest and was constantly given the responsibility to watch over my brother and my sister – in school and at home – and I daresay I have those experiences to thank for that I grew up to be an independent individual.

Hodgkinson opines that it is exactly the kind of overzealousness seen in parents today that interferes with a child's learning and growing process. Parents being "too pushy" makes what should have been a happy and carefree childhood filled with stress and competition. The environment in schools is already toxic enough with tests and loads of extra-curricular activities; the home should be a place for play and relaxation for the kids. 

The Children of Today
Today, a typical school child is given computer games, the Internet, giant TV, dance classes, and clubs, among other things, to keep him busy. A side effect of these "outside agencies" is that children "forget how to play," as Hodgkinson put it. This hyper-stimulation of our kids stunts their ability to imagine and "create their own games." 

The things parents make their children do such as with tutorials or piano lessons take away the enjoyment of "unscheduled play." The result is an extremely bored child when left with nothing to do (such as when there is a power outage) or one who will always ask you "What's next?" - you are bound to raise kids incapable of looking out after themselves.

I don't know about you but that sounds pretty scary to me. I often notice how today's young children would rather hole up in an Internet cafe and play DOTA for hours than play games with other children on the street. Nobody plays hide and seek under the moonlight or gets their feet dirty playing tumbang preso anymore. Yes, children play sports but as "scheduled," or worse, in preparation for a tournament or competition.

The Manifesto of the Idle Parent
The last part of Hodgkinson's article includes a "manifesto" of an idle parent. I would have to say that I agree with the basic assertion of allowing children to figure things out on their own although I am not likely to do a blood compact in honor of the manifesto. For instance, there are some points I don't really believe in such as not spending on trips to the zoo or family holidays. I get it that fun could still be had in your own backyard but I would not want to deprive my child (future children) some of the best experiences out there.

Some points in the Manifesto of the Idle Parent that I strongly agree on, however, include rejecting "rampant consumerism that invades children since the day they were born," time as being more important than money, "happy mess is better than miserable tidiness," working as little as possible when children are small, and filling the house with music, laughter, and merriment. 

Easy But Not 'Too Easy'
In the end, it all boils down to striking some sort of balance. Idle parenting can make everything easier – both for parents and their children. You worry less as you learn to trust your child. You don't face huge disappointments because you don't set high expectations. The children are given freedom to make their own decisions - and learn a lot of things in the process. 

Parenting CAN be this easy but not "too easy," I believe. There would be times when your child would whine or ask for stuff, and God knows how difficult it is for a parent to say "no" when children do that. Hopefully, we can raise our children to learn early on (by themselves) what is good for them, what they need, and what they do not. Or, they would be wise enough to be able to hammer out a compromise with you.

In the meantime, I need to put some work into being an "idler" parent. How about you, do you think idle parenting works? Why or why not?


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