The local elementary school I attended as a child now sponsors “Walk to School Wednesdays.” If you would like your child to walk to school you merely need to sign up, pledge to have a parent or other adult chaperone, and endure the police escort. Apparently walking to school, something that we neighborhood kids did from the age of seven or eight without a thought let alone a chaperone, now requires not only a parent, but a police escort and an excel spreadsheet.
Have you seen the spate of articles in the media of late surrounding parents getting arrested for things that used to be as everyday as pie? Things like leaving a happy pre-schooler in a locked car for five minutes to make a quick return, letting a seven year-old walk to the park by himself, or letting a child play in the Lego store at the mall while his mother was somewhere else shopping.
If you are anything like me, you might be thinking “hmmm…bad parenting choice but they don’t deserve to be arrested.” Now take a step back and ask yourself why. Not why they don’t deserve to be arrested, but why is it bad parenting to do things that thirty years ago used to be commonplace?
What do we think is going to happen if we let our kids be…kids? If we let them get dirty, let them make mistakes, let them screw up….leave them alone?
A dad blogger laments that an arranged play date is a sorry excuse for running next door to see if Johnny can come out to play. Everyone agrees…on the surface. Maybe play dates came on the scene when both parents started working, but their continuance is partially down to the fact that we don’t allow our children the freedom to just go to someone else’s house anymore. We arrange it. We expect them to text upon arriving, upon leaving. We trace and track them to from sun up to sun down.
Another article surfaces about how important play is. But even free, spontaneous play is supervised. Kids can’t climb because they might fall. They can’t swim because they might drown. They can’t hang out in packs and roam the streets because they might get abducted. Might, may, perhaps.
I was babysitting my sister at 11. I was mature for my age: not because I am special but because my mother wasn’t hovering over me every second of every day. I was allowed to make decisions for myself. I was allowed to make mistakes. I also had neighbors that I could call if I needed help or guidance, neighbors that would drop what they were doing and help me rather than calling the police because my mother left an eleven year old at home unsupervised.
I inwardly cringe at some of the stuff I did as a kid. I’m sure my mother would too, if she knew about it. Does it terrify me to think of my own kids doing that stuff or worse? Of course it does. But I cannot wrap my kids in bubble wrap and tie it up with a pretty bow. I can’t keep them swaddled until they are young adults. I can’t do those things and then expect they will be able to function in society.
In the name of protecting our children, we are denying them the experience of living their own lives. We are holding them hostage to our own fears. we are fattening our kids for slaughter.
And the slaughter is real life.
We need to stop the madness.
Life today for kids is like a giant simulator. We put them in front of a screen that shows virtual scenes of life, but we don’t let them control the joy sticks. Then, when they are old enough, we send them off hoping that mere simulated scenarios will be enough to keep them from getting hurt.
The truth is this: in all likelihood, your child is not going to be abducted walking to the park. They are unlikely to be hit by a car when they walk to school. They are unlikely to be molested while playing in the Lego store while Mom shops nearby. I wish I could say none of those things EVER happen, but of course that is not true. What is true is that they don’t happen any more today than they did when I was a child or when my mother was a child. Though statistic after statistic shows that crime is down, we have convinced ourselves of the opposite. We have convinced ourselves that it is unsafe for our kids out there in the big, bad world. No, it’s not the 1970s anymore.
The fact is, our children have never been safer. Seat belts, bike helmets, banning of second-hand smoke and Kinder Eggs. They are coddled and protected and nanny-cammed to within an inch of their life.
Yet, instead of parenting out of common sense, we parent out of fear; fear that something bad is going to happen, fear that the unthinkable will happen, and now, increasingly, fear that someone is going to turn you in for making a choice. Because instead of living in a world where adults look out for a child walking on his or her own, they call the cops.
I want my children to be safe. I want your children to be safe. But shielding them from playground apparatus and independence is not the way to keep them safe. By creating what is essentially a never-ending infancy, we are cheating our kids out of a childhood. Childhood is when you learn how to do things; how to be friends, how to make choices, how to negotiate and how to react and how to make mistakes. Children need to succeed and they need to fail. They need to fall, even though sometimes falling means breaking an arm. Or a heart. That’s what growing up is. It is not all sunshine and roses, it’s not craft projects and organic ice cream, structured days and a false sense of fairness and security. Growing up is a dress rehearsal for life. It’s when you see what works and what needs to be changed.
If you love something, the saying goes, set it free.
If we never let our kids out of the sight of our nest, if we keep grooming their feathers for them, dropping organic, grass-fed worms into their waiting beaks, when it comes time for them to leave, they’re not going to fly. They’re going to fall.
It is time to stop the madness.
We need to set our kids free.