My family love the Disney Channel cartoon show Phineas and Ferb. For the non-cable/non-satellite people I'll provide a brief synopsis of the show. Two step brothers (one from the states; one from Great Britian) spend their summer making cool contraptions and go on adventures with their friends. The older sister spends her time fawning over her boyfriend or trying to bust her brothers for doing dangerous things.
Watching the show with the family got me thinking about my childhood and how it differs from my children and their friends' summers. Phineas and Ferb have time to think up imaginative games and build cool things because they have free-time. Every waking moment isn't planned with classes, clubs and other organized activities. Since we've moved, my younger girls have developed friendships with other children who are over-scheduled with activities. They have 'built' imaginary clubhouses in the woods, traveled down unexplored trails in the woods and discovered that they can build dishes and other things using leaves, sticks and the occasional piece of duct tape. This is the first time in many years that there have been other children around with actual free time!
Lesson 1: Good things happen when children are able to initiate their own imaginative play.
Phineas and Ferb's mom is a stay-at-home mom who belongs to many organizations and does volunteer work. She has her own interests and passions. She doesn't need to live through her children. There are several karate moms and a few cheer moms that I know who are so caught up in their children's activities that they try to talk the child into continuing the activity long after the child has discovered that he or she no longer wants to participate.
Phineas and Ferb's mom is oblivious to what the boys are creating and I certainly don't believe that children should be completely unsupervised. Nor do I advocate that children she be free to do crazy dangerous things. But, small dangers are important for children. Children need to challenge themselves to try things that are more and more difficult. They need to try things that are a little frightening. These are the types of activities that make children feel empowered and confident. There is very little that can compete with the feeling of doing something that you didn't think you could do and then trying and succeeding. Hover parenting doesn't allow children challenge themselves.
Lesson 2: Children need to pursue their own interests without constant parental supervision. Parents need their own lives.
Phineas and Ferb;s huge creations always disappear just before mom arrives to see what they have been doing. They contraptions have been shot with beams that make them disappear or they have floated off into the distance.
Lesson 3: What parents see is only the tip of the ice berg. I'd like to think that the lesson learned is that children should always clean up their messes when they are done playing, but I'm trying to be realistic.