TIME Parenting

How to Take Your Kids to Dangerous Places and Why

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Start with your own limits and work backwards from there

Professional adventurer Mike Horn is paid to do things like circumnavigate the equator without the use of motors, and walk to the North Pole in mid-winter without the use of the sun. These expeditions take months or even years, so if he had to get his two daughters comfortable exploring the natural world or he’d never see them – and they had to get comfortable with big mountains and deep oceans or they’d be wetting themselves long after they were out of diapers. You might not venture much beyond an afternoon on a sailboat or walks in the woods behind the house but, if your own kids aren’t naturally inclined to join in the fun, get them pumped about exploring by keeping Horn’s practical insights in mind.

Before Kids Can Explore The World They Need To Be Introduced To It

“The ocean or the jungle or ice or desert, everything is a play park or a school to them,” Horn says of little kids. Before bringing them into a new environment, tell them about a particular animal they might see or a specific experience they’ll have, so they’re focused and excited before they even get there. For example, before his girls visited him in the Amazon, Horn told them all about the freshwater dolphins that swim there (your kids might have to settle for bullfrogs in the local pond).

Start With Your Own Limits And Work Backward From There

“Little kids don’t think of what will go wrong, they think everything they do might be right,” says Horn. When introducing them to the outdoors, their innate trust provides you with the entry point to get them engaged, so don’t give them any reason to doubt you. “They only get nervous if the adults are nervous. And nature is not dangerous if you know what to do. So, parents should know their limits and never take their kids beyond them.” Basically, if it looks too windy for you, then don’t take your kids on the boat.

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Make Kids The Stars Of Their Own Adventures

After you and your kids do something new together, turn the experience into a story in which they’re the main characters. Then encourage them to share the story with their friends or during school Show And Tell. “Once they’ve done something that the other kids haven’t done, the other kids become interested and that gives them confidence,” he explains. “By repeating the stories, they become the author of what’s happening, of something other kids might only read in a book.” So, that time you heard howling when you were camping becomes Call Of The Wild, starring your kids.

Bring Them Along, Even If They Can’t Come With You

When Horn’s girls were little, they would follow his expeditions on maps, which made places they’d never been seem much more tangible. “When I would call, they didn’t want to know how I was doing, all they wanted was my position so they could put the pins in the map,” he recalls. This technique works just as well if you’re going fishing with your buddies for an afternoon – it just involves a much smaller map.

Keep It All In Perspective

“The father must never grow up,” says Horn. “It’s the kid’s job to grow up. Otherwise, the father loses the context.”

This article originally appeared on Fatherly

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TIME Parenting

Why Playing Tag Is as Important to Your Kid’s Future as Reading

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We're sacrificing what kids need the most in the 21st century

Dr. J. Alison Bryant is a former senior research director at Nickelodeon and MTV who now heads up PlayScience, which helps everyone from Disney to PBS better understand how kids play. You probably think you’ve thought a lot about ensuring your kid plays in ways that are productive, healthy and fun — Dr. Bryant has thought about it way more.

Explain the role of play in how kid’s develop, and why it’s important

There’s actual cognitive science about how open play shapes neural pathways. When you take away open play, where kids experiment and learn through trial and error and really focus on a goal and an outcome, the brain develops in certain ways. There was an experiment with rats, where one group played naturally and the other group was kept from playing. The rats that didn’t play were so frightened [by social situations], they wouldn’t come out of their holes and in some cases died. That’s the life-and-death version, but what we’re sacrificing with our kids is, ironically, the kind of learning that actually helps us function in the 21st Century: communication, collaboration, creativity.

How does open play differ from structured play in this sense?

Structured play, play that’s hemmed in, it’s not bad — you should play across the spectrum. But, take bringing a character into play. We did research in our lab where kids brought in their toys so we could see how they played. The boys, in particular, were very, very branded and character-orientated in their play patterns. They were much more likely to bring their Hulk or Avenger. Girls brought teddy bears and had a more open script. Boys would say, “Hulk only wears purple shorts.” It was fascinating. The second you bring structure, even if it’s a character, that’s narrative. Characters have backgrounds. To get back to the first question, what we lose is learning how to be reactive problem solvers, to adapt, think out of the box. Those are life skills kids in the next generation have to have. Seventy percent of jobs today won’t exist when they’re adults.

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When it comes to open play, particularly with outdoor play, how does risk factor in, with, for example things like the so-called “adventure playgrounds” in Europe?

Risk is a part of experimentation. As a culture, risk is more a part of play in parts of Europe than here. Adventure playgrounds, they’re in nascent stages. In the U.S. it will take a while and that’s because we’re so litigious. That trickles down to helicopter parenting, and I think we’re seeing a backlash to that. We just worked with the Boy Scouts to redesign the Cub Scouts. Scouting in the past was a lot more unstructured; it was about getting out in nature and building camps. Over time, there was a move toward safety as an overriding concern, and there’s been a realization that we have to get back to experimentation. It’s OK to shoot a bow and arrow. We thought about, not risk, but how do you bring experimentation back? Risk is a loaded word, so it’s about unstructured, experimental play. It’s about framing for parents, so I don’t use the word “risk.” If you say “experimentation,” they love it.

There’s a public broadcaster in the Netherlands called KRO, which has a producer named Jan Willem-Bult, who created some of the best kids TV programming I’ve ever seen. It’s tied around experimentation and showing kids in a natural habitat. One series, called Piece Of Cake, is about kids cooking. There was one episode with kids making peanut butter; it’s messy and they’re using a blender and there’s no parent. There’s another amazing one with a girl making sushi and she’s straight up using knives. You watch it, and it’s endearing. You can see how kids would love it, and you can also see how they would never show it America.

How does technology factor into open play?

You have a generation of parents in the 80s and 90s that was very tech wary — tech was all one-way, TV and even video games, playing whatever was designed for you. Millennial parents are either tech accepting or promoting, they see that you can have open, creative play [with tech]; they love Minecraft, they see the value of tech and media as providing opportunities but understand it has to be balanced with outdoor play. It’s not one is bad and one is good; it’s that we have to have a balance. That’s healthy. The downside is that, when anything can be bad or good, then it depends on the context or who you use it with. That leads to more ambiguity in parenting.

Who is doing a good job of integrating tech into open play?

Play World Systems uses tech to create playground structures that are built for physical play. It’s a playground with tech built in — you’re red and I’m green, and we have to run to different parts of the structure and press a button and everyone’s running around like crazy chickens. It’s unstructured play with a cool active factor. Of course, you’re seeing wearables, which can have such an impact on traditional outdoor play — Fitbit, things like that but more kid friendly ones. Zamzee, out of San Francisco, does wearables tied into kids games. Gaming isn’t going away, so let’s at least make it more active.

Have you heard about the problems schools are having, with students who can’t play tag on the playground without hurting each other?

My mom was an elementary school teacher with gifted and talented kids and, her last few years teaching in the early 2000s, she said that when they had their recess, these kids were having real trouble knowing how to play. It literally got to the point where she and her faculty had to teach the kids how to play, because they would just stand around and not know what to do. That’s fascinating; we’re getting to the point where there’s so much structure that we have teach kids to be chaotic.

Tag is a great example — the touching piece, how hard, how physical can I be? It’s not surprising that kids might harm each other, because we don’t have rough-and-tumble play anymore. The other side of it is knowing of social boundaries. At Nickelodeon we did research into the value of tech in play. One of the things parents said was that, because of tech, kids didn’t need to know how to make small talk with new people. They always had something to occupy them, so they didn’t have to come up with things to say. But there’s a real social danger in not being able to interact with someone you don’t know. Tag goes into that, interacting with people you don’t know very well in an informal setting. If kids don’t have this social play, and they don’t experiment with social boundaries, they don’t have the skills to do it.

What can we learn about play from other cultures?

The idea of kids as active participants in creating their play. [In the U.S.], it’s more top down; we create play experiences for you to partake in. Other cultures treat kids as agents in their own play. We do so much research, and the kids are so eloquent; they have a lot to say about what they want and what they like, and we don’t listen to them enough. We need to listen more and make them agents in their play so they can make their own decisions.

This interview is part of Fatherly’s first annual 25 Best U.S. Cities For Kids to Play Outside. To read the full report, click here. This article originally appeared on Fatherly

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TIME women

Don’t Call Me a ‘Mompreneur’

Haven’t we earned the right by now to just be called entrepreneurs?

I was aimlessly wandering through Costco last weekend (it’s as close to a hobby as I’ll get), when I ran into an old friend. Not having seen each other in years, we exchanged the usual questions to catch up between shoving a year’s worth of taquitos into our carts. “Are you married? How many kids? What part of town do you live in?” Then she asked the one question that always makes me cringe, “Do you work outside the home?”

It’s a question that’s loaded with assumptions. For starters, it insinuates that people who choose to abandon a career to take care of their families are resided to the simplicities of their home. We know that’s not true. These parents are as much working outside the home — as drivers, coaches, educators, activity managers, and caretakers — as they are inside the home.

Second, the question presumes that because I’m a mom I have a choice. Third, it presumes that I want that choice.

When I got home I asked my husband, “Have you ever been asked if you work outside the home?”

“No,” he said, “of course not.”

I asked if he’s ever been called a dadpreneur, as he has his own law practice, and is by definition a dad. He rolled his eyes at me and proceeded to help me unload 400 pounds of rice and frozen lasagna.

For the same reason why my long lost friend asked me if I work outside the home, I’ve been labeled a “mompreneur,” more times than I can count. I’m the founder and CEO of a software company. I’m also the mother of two.

There’s a deep-rooted assumption in our society that women entrepreneurs with children will always regard themselves as mom first and foremost, and entrepreneur second. They can never exist on the same plane, and this is hurting us all.

Perception is everything

The term mompreneur conjures up images of a smart looking woman wearing a suit, holding a baby in one arm and a briefcase in the other. As I write this, in Entrepreneur’s Mompreneur section of their website, there are 14 articles on the home page. Eight of them have images of a woman entrepreneur with her kids. Seven of them have headlines about work-life balance. Two have headlines on how to involve your kids in your business.

There isn’t a single headline on just how to improve your business. Nothing on growing sales, raising capital, mastering culture, or recruiting the best talent. Apparently the only thing women entrepreneurs are supposed to care about is how to balance their godforsaken careers with having a family.

Creating a special category of content for entrepreneurs who happen to also be moms creates a perception that these women don’t run their businesses the same way other entrepreneurs do. And this is completely false. Every entrepreneur I know — mom, dad, and the kidless ones — want the same things. They want to grow. They want to keep costs down and quality up. They want to recruit and retain the best talent. And they all want to create something awesome that fits their definition of success.

The deluge of this type of content, expertly marketed to millions of women just like me, sends the message that when it comes to running our businesses, our biggest concern should be how we balance our ventures with our family obligations.

Men entrepreneurs aren’t targeted with articles about balancing work with family, and it sends a very different message.

This disparity feeds into the fact that women who work still take on more of the housework (three more hours per week) and spend twice as much time on childcare than their male partners.

The message permeates outside the family as well. Women entrepreneurs already face an uphill battle in funding their companies, with fewer than 5% of venture-backed companies run by a woman CEO. Investors prefer a venture pitch by a man to an identical pitch by a woman at a rate of 68% to 32%. The perception that women are less capable entrepreneurs than men is deeply engrained in our culture. Add “mom” to the woman entrepreneur’s CV and investors jump to the same assumption everyone else does: Is she really interested in working outside the home?

Learning is Limited

If I were to read every article on the top three pages of the search term “mompreneur,” I’d learn a lot about how to balance my life, but nothing about how to grow my business.

The average executive spends an estimated two hours per day reading. This includes email, so let’s be conservative and say that the average entrepreneur spends 30 minutes a day reading content specifically for the purpose of helping them grow and/or manage their business. If I’m spending that 30 minutes on how to cut down on childcare costs (real headline in a mompreneur blog), and my counterpart who’s a dad is spending 30 minutes reading up on how to increase sales by 20% this quarter, who’s going to get ahead faster?

The sad part is, what we read isn’t necessarily our choice.

Today’s publishing platforms have pretty much guaranteed that consumers are served up a steady stream of content, including on mobile and social platforms, which aligns with their perceived attributes. Some companies and the platforms they use are brilliant, and can derive really precise data on you just by your browsing history and online profiles. Others create personas based on shallow data and hit the send button with abandon. Woman + business owner + mother is the reason why I open my inbox everyday to find newsletters from spa resorts and kids clothing trunk shows. But if I want to find articles that can help me scale my software company, I have to do my own digging. Carrying the label “mompreneur” on social media profiles, blog posts, websites, or even just searching the term on Google can quite literally mean getting bucketed into a specific persona and targeted by an onslaught of content that’s geared more towards the mom and less towards the ‘preneur.

Not that this content is bad. Most every parent can benefit from cutting childcare costs and finding more time to spend with family. The problem is only half of the world’s parents are receiving the message on a near constant basis. The other half is being spoon fed real business advice.

The Imbalanced Dialogue on Work-Life Balance

Women have been launching and running their own businesses since the 1700s. Today, almost a third of businesses in the U.S. are owned by women, and they employ nearly 8 million people. About 70% of mothers in the U.S. work.

Haven’t we earned the right by now to just be called entrepreneurs? Why the special designation? Back to those nasty assumptions…

Visit the Wikipedia page on Mompreneurs and you’ll see that most of the links in the “See Also” section are about work life balance. There is a strongly held assumption that women entrepreneurs struggle with work life issues above all other challenges. A similar search of “Dadpreneur” on Wikipedia didn’t return the same results. Do we really believe men don’t struggle with this too?

Further, can we admit it’s possible that entrepreneurs who happen to also be moms might NOT struggle with work life balance as much as we assume? Can we change our mindset to believe that many entrepreneurs who are also moms wake up in the morning thinking about how they’re going to take on the world with their start up? That many of them enjoy spending eight to 10 hours a day focused on disrupting an industry, and don’t give a second thought to the audacity of ordering pizza three nights a week? That many, many entrepreneurs who also call themselves mom spend as much time visualizing how to get to a B round or a billion dollar valuation as they do visualizing a great life for their kids? Yes, these things can be of equal importance to women.

Motherhood doesn’t define us in our careers or predict the success of our ventures. Our vision and tenacity does. If you really want to label me, call me what I am. I’m an entrepreneur.

Aly Saxe is founder and CEO of Iris PR Software.

This article originally appeared on Medium

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Parenting

Why Failure Hits Girls So Hard

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Failing well is a skill

Mary, a college sophomore, tells me failure is “disgusting,” a wave of the “worst thing ever.”

When I ask why, she answers without hesitation. “I’m so used to doing well on things. If one thing goes wrong, I just want it to go away and feel like it never happened.”

That’s why Mary rarely speaks about her setbacks, including the study-abroad trip when she suffered from brutal homesickness, but didn’t tell a soul. She is terrified to be seen as anything less than extraordinary.

Jessica Lahey’s new book, The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed, says young women like Mary are in trouble. They’ve been so protected from mistakes, usually by their parents, that they fear failure, avoid risk and value image over learning. By the time they go to college, they are more vulnerable to depression, anxiety and stress.

Lahey says parents defail their kids’ lives in order to minimize kids’ pain and extend their need for mom and dad’s support. When kids are dependent on parents, mom and dad can enjoy kids’ wins as evidence of superior parenting.

A raft of studies back up Lahey’s point. But evidence suggests that girls may be especially vulnerable when it comes to failing, and being spared from it. Here’s why trying to protect girls from challenge hits them especially hard:

Girls respond to failure differently than boys. When girls make mistakes, they’re more likely to interpret the setback as a sign they lack ability — a factor much harder for girls to change. Boys, on the other hand, tend to attribute failure to more controllable circumstances.

The phenomenon has been traced in part to how teachers talk to students. In observational studies, teachers corrected girls for mistakes related to ability, while boys tended to get more behavioral interventions (“Pipe down!”, “Stop throwing that paper airplane,” and so on).

Other studies have found that girls are more likely to give up in the face of a stressful academic situation. In one study, fifth-grade students were given a task that was intentionally confusing. It was the girls who were derailed by the confusion and unable to learn the material. Notably, the highest-IQ girls struggled the most. The phenomenon continues in college, where Harvard economist Claudia Goldin found it was women dropping out of Intro to Economics when they failed to get A’s.

In the early 2000s, a new gender difference in how kids experience failure was identified. “Stereotype threat” — the burden girls face when dealing with the stereotype that they are “bad” at math and science — has been linked to their underperformance in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Less known is how stereotype threat makes failure more bruising for girls. It works like this: when girls buy into the stereotype that they’re bad at math, they don’t see a missed problem or poor grade as a correctible issue. Instead, it confirms what everyone else knows — that they simply have less ability. These experiences, researchers say, “add stress and self-doubt to [girls’] educational experiences and diminish their sense of belonging to the academic arena.”

Rescuing girls from failure makes them lose motivation — even more than boys. We learn best when we’re intrinsically motivated — that is, when we try something new for the sheer enjoyment of the experience. Intrinsic motivation is one of learning’s most precious resources. It bolsters us to stick out the tough moments of a challenge and pursue what we love to do.

Autonomy is one of three core ingredients of intrinsic motivation. In other words, we’re most inclined to want to learn when we can do it freely and of our own accord. When we believe others are interfering with our autonomy by trying to control our performance — say, by offering rewards, threatening punishment or offering certain kinds of praise — our motivation plummets.

Professors Edward L. Deci and Richard M. Ryan, pioneers in the study of motivation, say girls are more vulnerable to having their autonomy and motivation threatened. Because girls are raised to please others, they tend to care more about feedback from teachers and parents — and so are more sensitive to feeling controlled.

Females, Deci and Ryan have written, “pay particular attention to evidence of having pleased the evaluator when praised.” That’s why multiple studies find that girls show more negative outcomes when they are praised in ways that pressure them to keep performing at a high level.

In one study, praising elementary-school students for fixed traits and abilities, like being “smart” or “nice,” undermined intrinsic motivation for girls, but not boys. Another study found that in success situations, boys were more comfortable with praise that focused on their abilities, while girls were more comfortable with effort praise (“You worked hard”).

So what does work for girls? One study found that using informational praise to describe a good performance (“You did very well on that test”), instead of making an interpretation of it (“You’re so smart”), increased girls’ intrinsic motivation. Praising effort (“You worked really hard on that”) over ability has consistently been proven to motivate all kids, and especially girls.

Failing well is a skill. Letting girls do it gives them critical practice coping with a negative experience. It also gives them the opportunity to develop a kind of confidence and resilience that can only be forged in times of challenge. Besides this, girls need educators and parents to challenge stereotype threat, reminding them that ability can always be improved with effort, and that who they are will not determine where they end up.

Lahey says that saving kids from failure sends the message that we think they’re “incompetent, incapable and unworthy of our trust.” That’s why giving kids the space to screw up, as Lahey advises, is so important — and will be particularly so for girls.

Read next: What to Say When Your Daughter Wants To Grow Up To Be Ronda Rousey

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TIME Parenting

A Lot of U.S. Parents Are Naming Their Kids After Darth Vader

'Anakin' is in the top 1,000 baby names in America

The dark side could be strong in these younglings. Anakin, a.k.a. Darth Vader from Star Wars, is now within the top 1,000 baby names in America, according to the Social Security Administration.

An official list from the SSA sees a wave of parents naming their sons after Luke Skywalker’s Sith father. In 2014, Anakin was the 957th most popular name in the U.S. among boys. The list states that 218 babes were born with that name, a number shared with Emmet, Baylor, Judson, and Truman.

Though this might seem like we’re losing the future leaders of America to the growing influence of the Sith, Luke is the 28th most popular name — that’s 10,431 newborns named Luke last year. Similarly, Leia is the 509th most popular name among girls, which yielded 605 newborns with that name.

Although, there are a lot of families out there who love Game of Thrones, because 368 newborn girls were named Khaleesi after the Mother of Dragons.

Check out the full list of popular baby names here.

This article originally appeared in EW.com

TIME society

Your Child Might Not Need Those Costly Braces

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It is amazing the extent to which straight teeth have become a requirement

Modern parenting can be costly. It’s not just the necessities—diapers, clothing, shoes, food and more food (they never stop eating!), and medical costs—it’s all those unexpected items. What about summer camp and after-school activity fees, sports equipment (do we really need that helmet?), and the birthday presents for their friends? Don’t even talk to me about saving for college.

There’s another cost that many parents take on—the price to provide a child with a perfect smile. For many middle class families, orthodontics has become a right of passage—albeit a painful and ridiculously expensive one.

In the decades that have passed since I was a child with braces, the technology has advanced considerably. Today, parents can choose the traditional metal braces, clear ceramic braces, or even braces that are placed on the back of the teeth. There is even a clear, custom made mouth guard available for slight corrections. As the choices have expanded, so have the costs. These days, orthodontists charge anywhere from around $5,000 to a shocking $13,000 for more extensive correction.

Maybe it’s time to rethink the whole endeavor. In a surprisingly fascinating piece for The Atlantic, Michael Thomsen suggests writes:

Today’s orthodontic practices rely on equal parts individual diagnosis and mass-produced tool, often in pursuit of an appearance that’s medically unnecessary [emphasis mine]. Basic advances in brushing, flossing, and microbiology have largely defeated the problem of widespread tooth decay—yet the perceived problem of oral asymmetry has remained and, in many ways, intensified.

Orthodontics is not so different from other medical specialties. Plastic surgeons provide services to those maimed in accidents and to those born with disfigurements. But they also perform elective cosmetic surgeries on paying clientele.

Yet, orthodontists primarily serve children. And we don’t generally provide “unnecessary” medical services to children. As Thomsen points out, the American Association of Orthodontics actually markets itself as being able to provide a better future for your children. The organization’s website suggests that “A great smile helps you feel better and more confident . . .” and “can literally change how people see you—at work and in your personal life.”

Many parents can’t afford that “great smile,” though, which is why a thriving cottage industry of homemade orthodontic remedies has surfaced to provide the perfect smile to those who can’t afford licensed orthodontic work.

It is amazing the extent to which straight teeth have become a requirement for professional life. Even kids who did have braces often find that their teeth have moved back — they then start the whole process over as adults.

The decision to get braces is also fraught with intense social pressures for parents. What does it say about you if you decide to skip all that expensive orthodontic work for your kids? At the very least, people would consider it a total parental failure that you haven’t done everything to give your child every possible advantage.

While there is a legitimate need for orthodontics to correct truly disabling problems, parents should be aware that much of what is offered is cosmetic. Just as reasonable parents wouldn’t dream of providing their young children with lip fillers, nose jobs, tummy tucks, boob jobs, and other Kardashian-like treatments, parents might want to reconsider the need for pricey cosmetic orthodontic work.

This article originally appeared on Acculturated

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Education

Why More Urban Parents Are Choosing Homeschooling

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Frustrated with the public schools, middle-class urbanites are embracing an educational movement

Angela Wade’s children hadn’t reached school age yet, so she had given little thought to where, or how, they’d be educated. But from the moment she set foot in her local public school—to vote on Election Day—she knew that she wouldn’t be sending her kids there. It wasn’t that the academics weren’t up to snuff or that the Astoria, Queens, elementary school suffered from a bad reputation. But what she saw in the hallways and on the cafeteria walls surprised this former New York City public school teacher with an education degree from NYU. “There were licensed characters painted on the wall. You know—Dora the Explorer and all these things,” she says. “I just feel like that’s not really the place for advertising.”

For Wade and her husband, and for city dwellers with concerns ranging from classroom environment to the Common Core, public school is out of the question. And for them, as for many urban middle-class families, paying hefty private school tuition is not a realistic option, either. “It wasn’t so much a decision of what we were going to do—it was what we weren’t going to do,” she says. In the end, the Wades opted to homeschool. “Homeschooling is in some ways the easiest option. We’re driving our children’s education. We’re giving up a lot to do it, but in the end we thought it would make us most satisfied.”

At first, the Wades knew no other homeschoolers, and, like many young parents in the city, they had no family nearby, so they prepared themselves to go it alone. Before too long, however, they found a growing network of urban homeschoolers. “In a city like this, you can find your tribe,” says Wade. “You can find your homeschoolers. And there are a lot of us.”

Not so long ago, homeschooling was considered a radical educational alternative—the province of a small number of devout Iowa evangelicals and countercultural Mendocino hippies. No more. Today, as many as 2 million—or 2.5 percent—of the nation’s 77 million school-age children are educated at home, and increasing numbers of them live in cities. More urban parents are turning their backs on the compulsory-education model and embracing the interactive, online educational future that policy entrepreneurs have predicted for years would revolutionize pedagogy and transform brick-and-mortar schooling. And their kids are not only keeping pace with their traditionally schooled peers; they are also, in many cases, doing better, getting into top-ranked colleges and graduating at higher rates. In cities across the country, homeschooling is becoming just one educational option among many.

As recently as the mid-1970s, as few as 10,000 children were homeschooled in the United States. The practice was illegal in 30 states, and those who opted for home education mostly clustered in rural areas. Many of the original homeschoolers took inspiration from the writings of John Holt, a former fifth-grade teacher, whose two books, 1964’s How Children Fail and 1967’s How Children Learn, were highly critical of traditional compulsory education. The system had similar contempt for homeschoolers, tending to treat the students as truants and the parents as criminals.

Homeschooling’s expansion began in 1978, when the Internal Revenue Service under President Jimmy Carter threatened to revoke the tax-exempt status of Christian day schools that it accused of using religion-based admissions standards to circumvent federal antisegregation laws. The move to shutter these schools politicized evangelical Christians across the South, Midwest, and West. The IRS ultimately caved on its threats, but the evangelicals took a message away from the battle: the federal government—as embodied by the newly established Department of Education—was out to get them. “What galvanized the Christian community was not abortion, school prayer, or the ERA,” Moral Majority founder Paul Weyrich told sociologist William Martin for his book With God on Our Side. “[It] was Jimmy Carter’s intervention against the Christian schools. . . . [S]uddenly it dawned on them that they were not going to be left alone to teach their children as they pleased.”

Rather than wait for the next federal attack on their values, many evangelicals instead chose to educate their children where they felt the long arm of the government could never reach—in the home. By 1983, with the rise of the Religious Right and the formation of the Home School Legal Defense Association, the number of homeschooled children in the United States had ballooned to between 60,000 and 125,000. Thanks largely to the state-by-state advocacy of HSLDA lawyers, legal barriers to homeschooling began falling in the 1980s. By 1993, the practice was legal in all 50 states, though some remain suspicious (see sidebar, below).

Since then, the homeschooling population has continued to grow dramatically, while also becoming more secular. In 2002, according to a DOE survey, 72 percent of homeschooling families cited “a desire to provide religious instruction” as one of their reasons for educating in the home. By 2012, 64 percent cited religion as a motive for homeschooling; only 16 percent called it most important. “Most people assume we’re doing it for some sort of strange, creationist religious reason,” says Rachel Figueroa-Levin, a homeschooler who lives in Inwood, a middle-class neighborhood at the northernmost tip of Manhattan. “But we are stereotypical secular Jews.” Indeed, concern about “the environment of other schools” has supplanted religion as the Number One reason given for homeschooling, according to the DOE survey. Ninety-one percent of homeschooling parents cited school environment as at least a contributing factor.

Over the last few decades, the homeschooling population has also urbanized. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 28 percent of the nation’s nearly 2 million homeschoolers, or roughly 560,000 students, live in cities. That’s almost as many as live in suburbs (34 percent) or rural areas (31 percent). Boston, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles are home to swelling communities of homeschoolers. And in the nation’s largest city—New York—the number of homeschooled students has risen 47 percent, to more than 3,700 children, over the last five years.

Like other homeschoolers these days, urbanites choose homeschooling for various reasons, though dissatisfaction with the quality and content of instruction at local public schools heads the list. “I got through public school, but it was never something I thought was an option for my children,” says Figueroa-Levin. A native Staten Islander, she is a columnist for amNewYork, a free daily newspaper, and creator of the satirical Twitter account @ElBloombito, which gained 76,000 followers for its gentle skewering of former mayor Michael Bloomberg’s halting attempts at press-conference Spanish. She calls her local public school “awful,” but she’s not interested in moving to a more desirable school zone, as some New Yorkers with small children do. “We like where we live. We have a nice-size apartment. Sacrificing all that for a decent public school just doesn’t seem worth it,” she says.

But even after more than a decade of aggressive education-reform efforts, the “decent public school” remains a rarity in New York and in other American cities. With urban public schools inadequate or worse and quality private schools often financially out of reach, “homeschooling becomes an interesting study in school choice,” observes Brian Ray, founder of the National Home Education Research Institute (NEHRI) in Portland, Oregon. “You pay taxes, so the public school system in your city gets that money, then you can make the ‘choiceǒ of paying even more to send your kid to a private school, or to a Catholic school. More and more people are saying, ‘I’m going to homeschool.’ It’s not that weird anymore.”

Homeschooler Gwen Fredette lives in Philadelphia with her husband and four children. “Our school system has a lot of problems,” she says. That’s an understatement: Philadelphia public schools are in flat-out crisis. After a video of a 17-year-old student knocking a “conflict resolution specialist” unconscious at Southwest Philadelphia’s Bartram High went viral last year, a social studies teacher at the troubled school told thePhiladelphia Inquirer, “I had a better chance in Vietnam. . . . Here, you lock your door and pray no one comes in.”

Nor is violence the only concern in the city’s public schools. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that 60 percent of West Philadelphia schools had serious problems with mold or water damage. Budget shortfalls have left schools without nurses and made a collapsing public-education system “a chronic and seemingly immutable fact of life,” according to Philadelphia Magazine. Academic outcomes are horrendous. Just 10 percent of graduates from the city school district go on to get college degrees. The National Assessment of Educational Progress ranks Philadelphia near the bottom of participating cities: less than 20 percent of the city’s fourth- and eighth-graders score proficient or better in math and reading.

Fredette took one look at her local zoned school and, like Angela Wade, ruled it out. But she and her husband didn’t want to abandon a life that they enjoyed. “There are so many great things about living in the city—you kind of agree to take the good with the bad,” she says. Fredette loves that her older children use public transportation to get around. They have made friends from different cultures and backgrounds, something she’s not sure would have happened in the suburbs.

On the other side of the country, in Los Angeles, the entertainment industry has long sustained a homeschooling culture for performers. “Thousands and thousands of homeschoolers” live in the area, says Anna Smith, who runs Urban Homeschoolers, an “a la carte educational service” for about 40 homeschooling families in the Atwater Village neighborhood of northeast L.A. (See “City of Villages,” Winter 2014.) “There’s a great support network because there are tons of parents,” Smith says. At Urban Homeschoolers, younger students take courses such as “Wonder of the Alphabet” and “World of Numbers.” High school–aged kids can select from titles including “Conversational Spanish” and “The Legacy of the Cold War.” In a nod to homeschooling’s countercultural roots, there’s even a course called “Skepticism 101,” which promises to let students do their own “myth-busting.”

One myth that needs busting is that homeschoolers dream of re-creating the one-room schoolhouses of yesteryear. “Public schools were designed in a time when people were working in factories and offices and had the same job for 30 or 40 years. That’s not the way the world is anymore,” says Smith. “Nowadays you can get anything customized,” she says, including children’s educations, and modern communications technology and Internet-based curricula have enabled homeschoolers to do just that. Customization is not typically what traditional schools do well—certainly not in the sclerotic school districts of the nation’s biggest cities.

Lousy as the public schools often are, urban parochial schools don’t always measure up, either. Ottavia Egan grew up in Italy, the daughter of an American mother and an Italian father. Today, she lives on 72nd Street on Manhattan’s Upper East Side with her husband, Patrick, and their four kids. The Egans’ middle school–aged daughter had attended a local parochial school, where the books assigned tended toward “junky” literature, paranormal horror stories, and vampire-themed fiction. “These were the only kinds of books my daughter would read willingly. I had to plead with her to give the classics a try,” she says.

Ottavia admits that the thought of detaching from the traditional school model terrified her. She worried that, as a homeschooler, she would have to do everything herself. But she soon sensed that she had made the right choice. “My daughter is the type of kid who needs to ask a lot of questions. On the first day, she had 12 questions for me in the first hour. She never would have had those questions answered at school.”

Some ambitious homeschoolers craft personalized educational programs from scratch. Many others purchase off-the-shelf curriculum and supporting resources—lesson plans, reading materials, and tests for subjects ranging from American history to advanced Latin to calculus—from well-established companies, such as Sonlight and Oak Meadow. Some companies even operate as accredited distance-learning schools, providing students with what amounts to a correspondence course. According to the HSLDA, four major curriculum types predominate: the “traditional” approach, which uses textbooks and workbooks to teach reading, writing, grammar, and spelling through repetition; the “classical” model, which emphasizes grammar, logic, and rhetoric for the study of the great works of Western literature; “unit studies,” which employs a multidisciplinary approach to exploring particular themes; and “unschooling,” a student-directed approach, popular with countercultural types, that rejects formal, curriculum-based education and lets children explore subjects at their own pace.

“I knew I wasn’t going to just wing it—especially on math,” says Wade, who initially relied on library books to flesh out lesson plans that she wrote herself. Eventually, she gave in and purchased subject-matter curricula from Sonlight. It wasn’t cheap: the second-grade curriculum package with “everything you need to teach one child for one year” in history, geography, math, science, language arts, and handwriting costs $849. But Wade notes that if her children were in private school, “we’d be spending at least that much on books and materials.” Plus, she hopes to use the materials for her other children, and she notes the time she has saved by not having to write her own lessons and tests.

By contrast, Amy Millstein, a resident of Manhattan’s Upper West Side, is an unschooler. Her two children direct their own learning by following their natural inclinations and organic interests. Millstein offers support, when called for, and guidance, when asked, but she doesn’t otherwise shape—or interfere with—their education. The idea behind unschooling, which can work well with certain kids, is that people learn something only when they’re truly interested in learning it. “Of course, there will be holes in their education,” she concedes. “But I have holes in my education, and I went to school.”

The current crop of homeschoolers has one major advantage over the movement’s pioneers: modern technology has put all of history’s collected knowledge at their fingertips. No homeschooling parent need become an expert on differential equations or Newton’s Third Law of Motion. He or she can simply visit YouTube’s Khan Academy channel and find thousands of video lectures on these topics. Rosetta Stone, the well-known foreign-language software company, offers a specially tailored homeschool reading curriculum for just $99 per year. Wade’s children use a free website called Duolingo to practice Spanish. And many popular curriculum packages and distance-learning education programs provide Skype-based tutorials, online courses, and other learning supports.

Cities offer homeschoolers rich educational opportunities. The Fredettes of Philadelphia have used their storied city to supplement American history lessons. Their travels have brought them to the Liberty Bell and Constitution Hall, of course, but they’ve also visited a glassblower’s studio, taken archery classes, and toured the facility where the Inquirer, the nation’s third-oldest daily newspaper, is printed. “We even went to the Herr’s potato-chip factory and watched the chips coming out of the machine,” recalls Fredette. The children’s favorite trip was to the studios of FOX 29 News, where, as part of a unit on meteorology, they watched a live broadcast of the midday weather report, complete with green screen.

Boston is known as a college town. Kerry McDonald lives across the Charles River in Cambridge—“between M.I.T. and Harvard,” she says. On her City Kids Homeschooling blog, McDonald writes: “We use the city as our primary learning tool, taking advantage of all its offerings, including classes, museums, libraries, cultural events, and fascinating neighbors”—including a Tufts University biology professor who brings home snails and mollusks for the kids.

It’s no surprise that New Yorkers see their city as “the best place on the planet to homeschool a kid,” as Millstein puts it. She and her husband own a locksmith business in Manhattan and live with their two children in the neighborhood behind Lincoln Center. When her 14-year-old daughter expressed an interest in taking pictures, Millstein enrolled her at the International Center of Photography in Manhattan.

“The resources we have here in New York City are amazing,” Wade enthuses. “We study an artist and then we go to the museum and actually get to look at that artist’s paintings.” Ballet for Young Audiences, a repertory dance company that plays to public school kids on field trips, needed dancers for a production of Snow White. Wade’s nine-year-old daughter got the job—she was, after all, free during the day. Homeschooling allows kids the flexibility to pursue a passion without schedule or space constraints, whether it’s taking a morning ukulele class at the local guitar shop—as McDonald’s son does—or a midday outing to an L.A. beach.

Homeschooling has its critics. Some say it’s a choice reserved for those with the household wealth to get by on one income—a notion most homeschoolers reject. Too often, they say, the extra money that comes from having both parents work goes mostly to cover day care or after-school expenses, making the choice of one parent (typically the mother) to stay home and teach the kids a financial wash. Other critics charge that by withdrawing their children from struggling public schools, homeschoolers do a disservice to the system. But Wade and others point out that they still support the public school system with their dollars. “I pay school taxes,” she says. “But my children are not sitting in a school all day costing the city money.”

“Socialization” is by far the most frequently voiced concern. How will children learn to be well-adjusted members of society, the thinking goes, if they aren’t in school with other kids their age? Won’t they become social outcasts? Homeschoolers, particularly urban ones, view the question as ludicrous. Cities are social places.

Anyone fearing that homeschooled kids are being improperly socialized should visit the Yonkers home of Anne and Erik Tozzi. The couple met at Oxford, where Erik, a native New Yorker, spent a year studying medieval history. The Tozzis say that living on a closely packed city street has been a social asset for their five homeschooled children. Yonkers is New York State’s fourth-largest city, and the Tozzis’ backyard abuts those of other houses brimming with kids. On a sunny day recently, the neighborhood bustled with young people zooming from yard to yard, shooting baskets, playing tag, and shouting with abandon. Most of the Tozzi children’s neighborhood friends attend traditional schools, and some express jealousy of what goes on in the Tozzi house all day—not much, they imagine. “We get that a lot,” says Anne, in her plummy Birmingham accent. “ ‘Oh, I wish I was homeschooled,’ because they think it means you get to sleep all day. They don’t realize that we’re actually doing schoolwork.”

Schoolwork for the Tozzi children, who range in age from two to 14, can mean a day spent at their book-strewn dining-room table discussing Chaucer or a visit to the Museum of Natural History or the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan. Anne holds an M.A. in classical art history and worked as a rare-book specialist for Christie’s in London and New York (where she once handled a first edition of The Canterbury Tales). The family makes frequent visits to the New York Botanical Garden, with its 50-acre tract of old-growth forest, and the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, less than ten miles away on the Saw Mill River Parkway.

Last year, the older Tozzi kids worked with students from around the country to write a radio script, which they produced for an all-online course. They took online classes in Latin, religion, and math with teachers based in other cities. They used Skype for live class lectures and to communicate with other students for their projects. “They did a lot of e-mailing each other and ‘meeting’ outside class times to study and prepare, which tapped into their developing maturity and independence,” says Anne. The younger children used Skype for a weekly “Story Time” with a teacher.

Some critics claim that homeschooled kids won’t be prepared to do college-level work, but available data suggest otherwise. In 2009, NEHRI’s Ray looked at the standardized test results of 12,000 homeschoolers from all 50 states, as well as Guam and Puerto Rico. He found that homeschoolers scored 34–39 percentile points above the norm on the California Achievement Test, the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, and the Stanford Achievement Test. A recent study published in The Journal of College Admission found that homeschooled students had higher composite ACT scores than their non-homeschooled peers and graduated college at higher rates—66.7 percent, compared with 57.5 percent. “In recent years, we’ve admitted ten or 12 homeschooled students” per year, says Marlyn McGrath, admissions director at Harvard, where each class numbers about 1,600.

Other skeptics, still focused on socialization, warn that homeschoolers may have trouble in the less structured environment of college life. Not true, says Celine Cammarata, a 25-year-old graduate of the William E. Macaulay Honors College at the City University of New York. A native of Greenwich Village, Cammarata was unschooled. She never wrote a paper or took a test before sitting for the SATs at age 15. It was her traditionally schooled peers, she says, who found freshman year so challenging. “A lot of kids struggled with the autonomy they were given. I was already used to taking care of my own education, so it was less of a big transition for me,” she says. Despite never receiving a grade before entering college, Cammarata earned a 3.98 GPA while majoring in behavioral neuroscience. She works as a lab manager at Cornell University’s College of Human Ecology and is thinking about graduate school. Her brother, also unschooled, graduated from Harvard Law School.

An alumnus who does admissions interviews for another Ivy League institution confirms Cammarata’s experience. He finds the homeschooled kids he interviews more self-assured than their peers from traditional schools. “They are much better at interacting with me as an adult,” he tells me. “They know who they are—much more so than the prep school kids.”

Neither dropouts nor go-with-the-flow conformists, the new urban homeschoolers defy easy labeling. They don’t like what they see in the public schools, but they don’t necessarily want to tear them down. They want control, but mostly in the service of flexibility. They tend to reject newfangled educational theories, but they aren’t such traditionalists that they can’t see the educational value of Skype. They are religious—some of them—but their faith compels them to engage with their neighbors, not withdraw into isolation. Above all, they want a better education than their children can typically get sitting in a traditional classroom for six hours every day. Most homeschooling parents sound satisfied with their choice.

Ottavia Egan’s daughter, for instance, now in the seventh grade, is thriving. The vampire books are gone, replaced by historical fiction and classics. “She’s happy,” her mother says. “She likes to read. What more could you want for a 12-year-old girl?”

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME health

What to Say When Your Daughter Wants To Grow Up To Be Ronda Rousey

My 9-year-old is fighting in a sport filled with outrage and danger for women

By now, most of us have marveled at the skill and ferocity of MMA champion Ronda Rousey. Her recent 34-second dismantling of Brazilian Bethe Correia, and her dedication of the fight to recently deceased pro-wrestling legend Roddy Piper, places her on hallowed ground in the eyes of many fight fans. But because she is a woman — an attractive woman — complicates things for not only some fans of the sport, but the public at large.

There is no questioning the credentials of Ms. Rousey. She’s undefeated, all by knockout or submission. She’s only been taken to the third round once. She has won fights in 14, 16 and 25 seconds. Only a handful on her fights have gone past a minute. In fact, she’s only ever needed to spend a total of 25 minutes and 36 seconds to win all of her 12 fights. But the she thing remains problematic for purists, and for non-enthusiasts, whose pop culture radars have been lit up by Rousey.

Friend and prominent conservative radio host Buck Sexton expressed that side’s bewilderment, and let’s face it disgust, in a tweet:

More than 80 people favorited his tweet, and many of the comments were similar in nature. While I’m not aware of a plank in the conservative platform that states “Women Shall Not Fight,” I do believe many conservatives would cite traditional values (and gender roles) in their rejection of a woman so good at beating people up.

Rousey battles in a sport that did not allow women to fight until just a few years ago. In fact, Rousey herself was the first female competitor signed to the biggest MMA promotion, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), in 2012.

Yet women punching each other in a ring is not necessary a new thing. The first known female bout in this country dates back to the 1870s. Women’s boxing in the Olympics debuted in 1904, albeit as a demonstration. But in the sanctioned amateur ranks, the Golden Gloves didn’t allow female fighting until 1994. It wasn’t until the 2012 games that women fought for medals. The professional boxing picture for women has grown expansively since the mid-1990s.

So, it is in this climate of wonder and outrage, my daughter fights. She’s training now, but vows, over the absolute forbiddance of her mother, to become a champion. She is 9 years old.

She and her 7-year-old brother and a handful of other little boys train together at Champs Gym in downtown New Rochelle, New York. Although anyone can train here, it is a serious place for serious fighters.

Champs Gym is not stranger to female boxers. It’s home to Golden Gloves winners, and champions like Krystal Dixon, the women’s 2014 USA Heavyweight Boxing champion. She will fight for a gold medal in Rio.

The kids and I must have passed by the gym dozens of times before I suggested we wander upstairs to take a look. When I asked if they trained girls, the owner of the place looked at me and my baby girl and said, “We train women. They are treated the same way as the men. They get no special treatment here, so don’t ask for any.” My little girl looked at him, nodded, and said “Good.”

With that, the children began their training, alongside a half-dozen other similarly aged kids. My girl is the only girl, but works hard enough that most of the boys have forgotten about that part of who she is. Here’s a sample workout for the kids, mind you:

300 jumping jacks
300 crunches
Dozens of push ups
100 toe touches
Shuttle runs from rope to rope
Running through boxes (think tires in football)
Endless circling of the ring in boxing stance

And then there’s the boxing instruction itself: they learn punches and punching technique, and how to avoid getting punched. Early on, the coach would stop the gym and point out my daughter’s jab. Other times the gym would stop and watch her climb the rope and tap the ceiling, over and over again until someone yelled it was their turn.

When your child is good at something, you feel two things: 1. pride in their effort and skill, and 2. good about yourself because you have to have had something to do with it. Never mind that my varsity sport was marching band.

Yet this is boxing, a sport where the winner physically dominates the other by punching them repeatedly. There are the injuries, and the consequences. Rare is the fighter that walks away from the sport clean and without damage. Boxers die from severe brain injuries. Studies show 15–20% of all boxers end up with the disease dementia pugilistica, or DP. It is caused by repeated concussive blows to the head over a period of time. Symptoms include mental deficiencies, memory loss and tremors. DP is just one of a spectrum of illnesses waiting for boxers as they age.

Of course, all these studies relate to men. Women simply haven’t been in the sport long enough to be studied extensively. But we are finding out some things about girls in sports — they concuss at a rate much higher than men. The Journal of Athletic Training released a study of collegiate injuries over 16 years. It found that in many sports, like basketball and soccer, women suffer higher rates of concussions than their male counterparts. In softball, the rate was double that of male baseball players. No one really knows why girls suffer more concussions, and it doesn’t get much attention. And there is essentially no data on women who fight.

I asked my daughter if she knew who Ronda Rousey is. She gave me the “please, Daddy” face, and said yes, “Ronda is the Queen of Boxing.” I asked her if she’s bothered that her admirers called Ronda a “beast.” “No, Daddy,” she said. “That’s a compliment. It means she’s better than anyone else. Better like me. She fights to show she’s better than the rest, and other people’s opinions shouldn’t stop her dream.”

UFC President Dana White says he believes if Ronda Rousey fought Cris “Cyborg” Justino it would shatter the company’s pay-per-view records. Until now, that record of 1.6 million buys goes to the Frank Mir-Brock Lesnar fight in 2009. White says Rousey-Justino would do 2.5 million, nearly one million more from combatants who weren’t allowed in the league until three years ago.

With Rousey heading into uncharted success in and out of the ring, I wonder how many other young girls will don gloves and head into the ring, and even the octagon. And I wonder how many dads will wonder if they are doing the right thing by letting them do it.

This article was originally published by Autonomous on Medium

Read next: Ronda Rousey Has the Best Response to People Who Think Her Body Is Too Masculine

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Mothers

Why the U.S. Needs World Breastfeeding Week

breastfeeding
Getty Images

Sabrina Joy Stevens is a writer in Washington, D.C.

It’s not about affluent parents’ feelings—it’s about public health, and discrimination

Which is worse: feeling a pang of regret when a friend posts a “#brelfie,” or feeling pangs of fear that you might lose your home after being wrongfully fired for requesting pumping breaks?

Feeling like somebody might have given you a dirty look while you bought a can of formula, or worrying about the man leering at you while you feed your baby?

To hear some Mommy Warriors tell it, all of these situations are equal, thus there’s no value in campaigns to normalize breastfeeding, such as last week’s World Breastfeeding Week.

But what people on both sides of the fence seem to forget is that many moms don’t live in a wealthy bubble where our feelings are the only things at risk as we make choices for our children and families. Complaints about rampant shaming or “bressure” among affluent women ignore the structural obstacles that working class women and women of color—like myself—face if we decide we want to nurse our babies.

While affluent women have the freedom to walk away from jobs that don’t allow them to nurse or pump, as well as the power to demand individual accommodations like paid family leave and comfortable lactation rooms, working class women and women of color disproportionately work in low-paid service sector jobs where they aren’t given the same flexibility. This means that many struggling mothers are stuck either spending thousands of dollars on formula, or losing their jobs altogether.

We need breastfeeding advocacy campaigns in order to create the public understanding and political will to expand such accommodations, and to make mothers aware of the rights we already have.

In several online communities for black breastfeeding moms that I belong to, women frequently share stories of being mistreated by employers for requesting pumping breaks or clean, safe places to express and store their milk. Many have no idea that such mistreatment is illegal. Others are seeking support after partners and family members accuse them of being lewd or inappropriate for nursing their children. Lacking support at work or at home or both, many moms forfeit their breastfeeding goals despite wholeheartedly wishing to start or continue nursing.

Regrettably, mothers of all kinds face undue scrutiny and judgment no matter what we do for our kids. But the Department of Labor has found at least 71 serious instances of lactation discrimination since the Affordable Care Act took effect. Trying to turn campaigns like World Breastfeeding Week into #AllFeedingMatters completely ignores the difference between hurt feelings and discrimination.

No one should be shamed for how they feed their children, as long as those children are well fed and cared for. But letting privileged parents who already have a choice undermine attempts to offer less advantaged parents the information and advocacy they need to claim that freedom for themselves is shortsighted and unfair. Transforming earnest attempts to destigmatize and demystify women’s bodies into a conversation about privileged women’s feelings obscures the fact that breastfeeding awareness campaigns are—or should be—about promoting public health and ending widespread discrimination.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Parenting

‘Free Range Parenting’ Too Often Leads to Child Neglect Investigations, Report Finds

Danielle and Alexander Meitiv Are Being Investigated For Letting Their Children Walk Home Alone From A Playground
The Washington Post—The Washington Post/Getty Images Danielle and Alexander Meitiv are being investigated by Child Protective Services for letting their children walk home alone from a playground. (Sammy Dallal--For The Washington Post via Getty Images)

"Parents are swept into the system and labeled at fault when they have made reasonable parenting decisions"

Charging responsible parents with child neglect when they encourage their kids to be independent diverts valuable resources away from true cases of child abuse and negligence, according to a new report.

The Family Defense Center, a Chicago nonprofit that advocates for justice in the child welfare system, said allegations of “inadequate supervision” often arise when children are left unattended for a short period of time, even when the kids are not really at risk and the parents have made a calculated parenting decision to allow them to be on their own. The report, which covered high-profile battles over “free range parenting” as well as lesser-known reports of child neglect, found that allegations of “inadequate supervision” can push responsible parents into the child welfare system, endangering their custody of their children and wasting valuable state resources.

“Parents are swept into the system and labeled at fault when they have made reasonable parenting decisions,” the report says. “Child welfare system resources are currently being devoted to the investigations of neglect allegations, such as inadequate supervision, where children are not at risk. This means fewer resources to investigate and indicate the serious cases of neglect or abuse.”

The report looked at instances where parents were “charged with neglect for common, everyday parental decisions, such as allowing their children to independently walk to parks, play outside, or remain inside a car while the parent runs an errand.”

One high-profile instance they point to is the Meitiv case, in which Maryland parents were charged with child neglect for allowing their two children, aged 10 and 6, to walk home from a local park during the day. The Meitivs were ultimately cleared in June, but their case has become a touchstone in the debate over what counts as a reasonable parenting decision and what is child neglect. Danielle Meitiv lauded the Family Defense Center’s report, praising them for focusing on “cases that didn’t get attention with families who suffered more than ours.”

“The report highlights the terrible irony that the very people who are charged with protecting children end up traumatizing them and their families far too often,” she told the Washington Post.

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