A little while back we looked at the phenomena of helicopter parenting and coddled kids. After writing that blog I started to think about our decision to leave a larger city and move to a smaller town. We decided to make the move as a step towards living a slower paced life and to create a relaxed environment for our kids in a more natural setting. The highly structured child rearing philosophy was well supported in the city and we were being mildly influenced away from the more relaxed unstructured lifestyle we once knew. Now a year after moving away from the big city to a smaller town we are much more comfortable in the family lifestyle we have created. So the question is: Are parents who live in a larger city more likely to coddle their kids, schedule most of their free time, and become helicopter parents? While you will find both parenting styles everywhere I seem to think that the answer is yes. Here are some of the reasons why I believe you find less helicopter parents in smaller towns:
- Higher incomes for families in cities. Most smaller towns have a lower per-capita income then the larger cities which is why most people live in cities in the first place. If a family has more disposable income then it makes sense for them to want to spend it on their kids. City kids seem to accumulate more stuff to keep them busy and the parents will spend more on their education (private schools or tutors) and recreational activities.
- More programs for kids in cities. In larger cities there is simply a greater variety of structured activities for kids to participate in.
- Higher perceived risk to child’s safety in a larger city. Helicopter parenting is a result of not wanting anything bad to happen to our kids and in cities there is a perception, rightly or wrongly, that it is not safe for kids to go off and play on their own. While media saturation also has increased the paranoia towards kid’s safety in smaller towns it does not seem to be at the same level.
- Smaller towns are usually closer to nature. In our new town we are within walking distance to parks, beaches, and other trails where similar spots required considerable driving when we lived in the city. The close proximity to natural settings provides incentives get out and have unstructured play in a natural setting instead of all their free time being tied up in structured activities.
- Parents in larger cities live in a faster paced world on the job and this can translate to the home. We have a real laid back and casual attitude on life and while we were able to maintain much of this outlook in the city it was not always easy. I had to drive in busy traffic to get to a demanding fast paced job and then travel in the same traffic before returning to home life. As time went on it was getting harder and harder not to let the pace of my surroundings dictate the pace at home.
- Higher competition in larger cities. This observation is even harder to quantify and it is more of a gut feeling I have. The faster paced lifestyle seems to bring out a more competitive spirit in people and this includes competing with other parents with giving their kids the best they can. More parenting peers mean more peer pressure?
These are all generalizations of course but I think there is some merit to these observations. The next question is does a smaller town create a more relaxed and less structured family life or are more relaxed parents simply drawn to smaller town living. It is probably a little bit of both. People who live in smaller towns and bigger cities all want the best for their kids and to keep them safe. These desires of parents will never change but the methods of how to do this is evolving everywhere; just maybe at a faster pace in the cities.