Raising a child today can be fraught with danger. There’s the fear of strangers to instill, not to mention all the little accidents that could end in bone or tooth shattering chaos.
I’m being facetious, sort of…it’s no wonder young working parents of today spend more time with their offspring than the last couple of generations ever did. Certainly my foster Mom Nell would let me bike around the neighborhood until dark, learning important lessons in survival. And I would deposit my kids at The Beach, where they could get into all kinds of mischief and usually did!
So I had to laugh when the Bride told me to read the latest article in the Atlantic, “Hey Parents, Leave Those Kids Alone!” It’s all about how children need to challenge themselves in order to grow up healthy and strong, emotionally and physically. They need to force themselves to do the thing they are afraid of, “…in order to overcome their fear.” http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/03/hey-parents-leave-those-kids-alone/358631/
Children need to:
- Explore Heights – like I did when I walked alone across a log over a river and fell, and knew how it felt to have the air punched out of your lungs.
- Handle Dangerous Tools – like the Rocker did when he fashioned a sword out of a stick (which he did often) and beat the crap out of a bee’s nest; he knew what dozens of bee stings felt like. Or the Bride zip-lining across our backyard.
- Be Near Dangerous Elements – the Bride and Rocker both spent most summers around the ocean, barely supervised; so yes, they did learn how to swim.
- Rough and Tumble Play – did I mention they were building forts with lounge chairs and climbing up lifeguard stands and jumping off and such?
- Speed – yes, that was the Rocker’s middle name. For him it was ice skates and rollerblade hockey on the street, but the Bride could also rollerblade out of my sight in a quick second.
- Exploring on One’s Own. Probably the most important element of all.
Things started to change around issues of child safety when lawyers started to sue towns and municipalities for damages resulting from playground equipment. Grassy areas became covered in rubber, some equipment disappeared entirely, like that metal merry-go-round that kids pushed and could eventually jump on. I can still remember the thrill of that ride. When I think about it, it was around the time my children were growing up that things started to change – the first handbook for public safety equipment was published in 1981.
I remember my nana allowing me to walk into the town of Scranton, PA to buy an ice cream cone by myself under the age of 10. The risky thing about it was getting the change right! The Bride walked up the street herself to her piano lessons in the Berkshires; the Rocker routinely disappeared at the beach. But like the newfangled idea of a semi-supervised, wild, junkyardish playground called The Land in the Atlantic article, a day at the beach offered many of the important elements of danger and excitement to fuel a young child’s growth.
I think if we are anxious parents, we will raise anxious children. When we scoop up our child to remove them from harm’s way, we do not allow them the opportunity to fix something themselves, to overcome an obstacle. And when we go out of our way to accommodate our child’s fears, we reinforce those fears. Of course this is all age-dependant. A toddler may need a little scooping every now and then. “Fear Not, Child,” by Jerry Bubrick http://www.nature.com/scientificamericanmind/journal/v25/n2/full/scientificamericanmind0314-46.html