I read a neat article by Hanna Rosin in the Atlantic called The Overprotected Kid. The article includes interesting anecdotes about children growing up – especially the differences between some areas of Britain and America. It is a lengthy, well written article. The article makes several observations about the move to keep kids “safe”. I encourage you to make a good cup of tea and settle in to read it.
One of the points are that really hit home is that parents now spend more time with their children than ever before. This is in spite of adults (especially women, but also men) now working more hours than ever. That’s right, even though adults are spending more hours at work, they are also spending more hours with their kids. The article mentions how kids are rarely alone. In the author’s childhood, time was spent away from home after school and on weekends. I can relate to that. As a kid, when I got home, I checked in briefly, then headed outside to play in the park or in the street (I had the corner house, so the neighborhood kids largely gathered around my house for street games). Ms. Rosin points out that:
“ My mother didn’t work all that much when I was younger, but she didn’t spend vast amounts of time with me, either. She didn’t arrange my playdates or drive me to swimming lessons or introduce me to cool music she liked. On weekdays after school she just expected me to show up for dinner; on weekends I barely saw her at all.”
This mirrors my own childhood. But it doesn’t mirror the childhood of my kids. My kids spent much more time at organized events (one swam, one danced). In part, this was because of the culture change. There just weren’t kids hanging out for my kids to play with. (For the record, I think that my kids have turned out pretty terrific). They definitely had a different experience than I did growing up.
The article cites many cases of how we are protecting (or overprotecting) kids with little seeming benefit. Injuries aren’t down all that much. Kids are still much more likely to abducted by someone they know rather than a stranger. However, an abduction of a child hits the news hard. It makes it seem much bigger and important in our brains. So, we want to protect our kids from abduction. (Granted, we do want to protect kids from abduction, but the measures that we take are frequently irrational). (By far, the largest cause of death for children is auto accidents.)
There is a cost to all of the safety measures as well. Children need to make small mistakes as the growing up. From those mistakes, they learn important lessons that serve them well later on. This is part of the growing process.
In chatting with friends, we talked about how we used to meet up at the playground. One of my friends has younger kids. One of his sons was laying about. Dad asked his son about going out to the play or doing something.
“Hey, how about playing that game that you like” – a reference to a computer game that the kid likes to play.
The son’s response was that none of his friends were available to play.
“How about doing the campaign?” says Dad.
“No one does the campaigns Dad.”
After a bit of discussion, Dad realized that his son was doing just what he did as a kid. He was waiting for his friends to be available and gather. Only, instead of gathering at the corner or the field, they were gathering online. The characteristics are largely the same as when we were kids, the space is restricted to kids (no adults allowed), the kids all know each other, they wait for each other to be available and it is the play together that matters most. However, it looks really different to the adults.
I’m a pretty optimistic person. Times are changing. Things will not exactly the same as they did when I was a kid. That’s OK. I hope that we try to understand kids and support them. I just hope that we don’t try to support them too much so that they never get the chance to grow.