I just read an interesting article, The Overprotected Kid: A preoccupation with safety has stripped childhood of independence, risk taking, and discovery—without making it safer. A new kind of playground points to a better solution. (link to the article at the end of this page)
The article shows that there has been a great shift in parents’ attitude towards the safety of their children over the past decades. Parents have been increasingly fearful that something bad might happen to their children and that they had to supervise them constantly to avoid any dangers that might befall them. Being overprotective has created a generation of children who have never learned the necessary skills to cope with a real life environment and who have been negatively impacted in their personalities. The well-meaning but fearful attitude of the parents has led, according to a study, to children who children have become “less emotionally expressive, less energetic, less talkative and verbally expressive, less humorous, less imaginative, less unconventional, less lively and passionate, less perceptive, less apt to connect seemingly irrelevant things, less synthesizing, and less likely to see things from a different angle.”
The article reminded me of my own childhood. I grew up in Belgium. Born in 1959, my childhood was in the 1960’s, and my teenage years in the 1970’s. My parents were very attentive to their (three) children, but left us a lot of freedom to explore the world. Yes, we got warnings, and were told where not to go, but as a typical child I just didn’t tell them where I really spent my time. In that time period, it was quite normal to let children explore the neighborhood on their own, and connect to other children. My parents didn’t like me to go the nearby meadow where older kids were playing football, but I went anyway. Nothing bad ever happened. I went to explore further and discovered sides of a railroad built on a high berm. The sides were covered with numerous bushes, and it was fun to crawl underneath them. There was so much to discover there, and to imagine. Yes, I also walked around on top of the berm, next to the railroad tracks. Never got run over. A lot of parents nowadays think that children are just dumb and cannot asses danger. I think that is not true. I always had a good sense how far I could go, and stayed away from any real danger.
In my teens I went to play with a friend in a neighboring town. We went to play in the sand underneath a bridge, and next to a railroad. Digging a fort in the sand, and in the interesting terrain around it, let us have good, imaginative and creative days. Nearby my parents house was a stretch of ground that had been dug out in the past, and local people had been using it to dump their defective large appliances, among other things. Needless to say my parents forbid me to go there, but I spent a lot time exploring the meandering trench and all the treasures hidden it. It was another way to learn by myself what I could and could not do, by scratches, scrapes, and sliding away along the slopes.
One day I found a lot of large rhododendron branches somebody had dumped there. I carried them, one by one, out of the trench, across the street, to the back of a vacant lot, and built a makeshift fort. Although well hidden, it was soon discovered by other neighboring boys, and they built their own across from mine. And so a dynamic of social play started, with all the excitement, jealousy and destruction that followed afterwards. It is a necessary way for children to prepare themselves for the ‘real world’ when they have grown up. Exploring, facing dangers, learning how to deal with challenges and all the social interaction with other children are a crucial part of preparing oneself for the real world in adulthood.
Accidents happen on the way. Once I hit my head very hard on a stone when a makeshift swing (I made myself) broke. I scraped my knee badly on an asphalt playground. In the first grades, my teachers let me climb up a wall, then onto the roof of a shelter, and walk in the gutter (it was a fixed stone gutter) to retrieve a soccer ball, whenever it landed upon the roof. Nowadays, teachers wouldn’t even consider such a thing.
In my teenage years I was exploring not only my own town but all the neighboring towns, and even further, with my bike. Once, I rode straight into a parked car, and luckily there wasn’t a scratch on the car, or on me. The bike got a little dent. But my bike was my freedom. There wasn’t a corner in all the towns that I didn’t explore. My friends, who also were riding their bikes around were less adventurous, but sometimes we would cover large distances, over an hour away from our homes. Getting lost was part of the deal, but we would always find our way home.
I also went jogging for a while in my teenage years, after dark, sometimes with friends. The streets lights were on, so it wasn’t that different than in the daytime. But sometimes I went jogging in the wooded part of the town, where it was pitch dark. I did that to get over my fear for the dark, and at the same time it was a thrill too. Nothing bad ever happened to me. I didn’t come across child molesters, and I didn’t get abducted by aliens. 🙂
As I was also very interested in nature, I use to explore all the wooded parts around, by myself, discovering and enjoying the wonders of the ant world, the numerous bugs, learning about wild plants, and identifying trees. I think a lot of parents nowadays would not even allow their child to go into the woods by themselves. Who knows! What might happen to them… It is no wonder that children nowadays are underdeveloped and suffer from various psychological ailments for which they have to take psychiatric drugs.
According to the article I mentioned, some people have seen the sign on the wall, and are starting to allow children to have a greater freedom again in their playtime. I hope this will continue.
Read the article here.