“A preoccupation with safety has stripped childhood of independence, risk taking, and discovery—without making it safer.” Hannah Rosin
This quote from the article “The Overprotected Kid”, published in The Atlantic, really started me thinking!
It seems that kids today are a LOT more “overprotected” than I was and than my own children were. Many of my younger Mom friends are pretty much supervising their children 24/7! I understand that there are legitimate reasons for guarding against predators and dangerous situations. However, for some parents, I believe fears are simply excuses to overreact and not make the required effort to provide opportunities for reasonable exploration and independence.
I am not advocating putting your children in danger by leaving them totally alone in dangerous places. I’m just saying it is ok to let your children make messes, get dirty, try new things, and be creative with fewer parental restrictions!
My friends and I, and my children and their friends, all routinely played with “found” objects–natural and man-made. We had plenty of toys but our imagination was piqued by woods and big “climbing rocks” and puddles and streams and old tires and abandoned building supplies.
My sister and I grew up with two parents who were, relative to some of our friends’ parents, very involved in our lives, yet they encouraged our independence through unsupervised creative play. My parents furnished plenty of boxes, “covers” (old sheets, quilts, blankets, fabric, etc), bandages (sheets torn into strips), tools and all manor of other “junk” for our entertainment. We made forts and houses, we played doctor, and we built tree houses. We lived near “the high school,” which was an excellent place to ride bikes on evenings and weekends.
My parents required that my sister and I notify them where and with whom we would be playing, and approximately how long we would be gone. I don’t ever remember my parents going with me around our neighborhood, or checking up on me, although they probably did! We earned trust by doing what we told our parents we would be doing and not abusing their trust.
We played outside for hours at a time, returning home only to use the bathroom or get sustenance. We climbed trees, explored woods, dug for “doodle bugs,” and even played on the beach unsupervised! Many times, we took along water and snacks to expand our adventure time. We even used to spend time outside after dark with neighbors at various neighborhood locations.
It was “routine” for my friends and me, when I was about 8, to take a dime and ride bikes to the store 6 blocks away for a bag of penny candy! We also might pick up a loaf of bread or something for Mama at the same time. I know it’s probably not save in all neighborhoods to allow your child that kind of freedom, but you could allow your school aged child to go into a store with a friend for milk or bread while you wait in the car!
From the age of 10 or 11, my friends and I walked 20 blocks “to town.” There were no cell phones, or pagers, by which to communicate, and relatively few pay phones. By the age of 12, we would be gone for hours at a time. One favorite adventure was bike riding to Fort Clinch, the old fort at the State Park in my hometown, to look for alligators on the nature trail, or play “hide and seek” and “sardines” with friends. (For those who don’t know, Sardines is the opposite of hide and seek. Only one person hides. When you find the person hiding, you quietly climb into the hiding place with them. The last person to find everyone becomes “it.”)
By the time I was 12, I was taking rowboats out on the river alone. At 14, I was driving powerboats alone and with friends! My sister and I were both very responsible, and careful, because our Daddy took the time to teach us what we needed to know, and let us practice. We were driving boats way before we were old enough to legally drive cars! Our children learned to drive on go-karts, 4-wheelers, and riding lawn mowers.
My parents laid the foundation for my independence then allowed me to try my wings. Practicing manners, modeling how to behave respectfully in public, showing how to ask for help in stores, etc., are all lessons that parents can teach their children, then provide opportunities for them to practice those skills. That’s what I tried to do for my children as well.
Because of increased safety concerns, and also because we live in a more rural area miles from town, my children didn’t have quite the same freedoms with which I grew up. They did, however, enjoy a good bit of freedom–and a lot of encouragement to explore their environs and try new things, with modest supervision.
My children enjoyed playing in acres of woods with streams and a lake! They searched for arrowheads and walked along railroad tracks and made forts. They had bikes, a go-kart, and a modicum of freedom to explore their surroundings!
I thought we gave our children a lot of freedom. We learned some parents gave their children even more–to do things we did not want our children doing. Above all, parents need to be vigilant about who their children are with, where they are, and what they are doing!
I know many parents are against children playing with weapons. My experience, especially with boys, is that they will use their fingers or a stick or some other object as weapons, if they don’t have guns or swords! We wanted our children to understand the dangers of weapons, sharp objects, and other dangerous things, and know how to handle them responsibly. They were admonished against misuse, and guided to respect weapons. Our children played paintball and airsoft guns with their friends, and learned to hunt and shoot real guns with their Dad. My son learned to use knives and matches responsibly before he was in kindergarten.
S’mores was one of our family traditions. And along with making s’mores comes building campfires, burning things, and poking at the fire with sticks. Children quickly learn it is uncomfortable to get too close to a fire! I will always remember how proud my son was when he cooked his first meal (fish) over a campfire by himself.
Our daughter rode horses and loved to jump them (something she still does competitively.) While “practicing” jumping horses, our daughter, her friends and our dogs ran and jumped through “courses” laid out with objects like chairs and boards for “fences.”
We packed snacks for our children to incorporate into their independent play. They enjoyed playing house and pretending to go camping or hunting.
My children ENJOYED getting messy! When they finger-painted, it was on paper and on themselves. Once, we finger-painted with chocolate pudding, which they enjoyed eating in the process. The children played in mud and puddles and dirt with dirty wet dogs. Sometimes, they all came in muddy from head to toe, literally!
But, do you know what? Mud and paint and food wash off, and children clean up none the worse for the scrubbing! I think too many parents are too concerned about the inconvenience of their children getting dirty or messy. I’ve seen parents WAY overreact about a little dirt or a little catsup on clothing.
Yes, many of these things CAN be dangerous, but we believe it was important to encourage our children to learn to be independent, adventurous and confident–while we were loosely supervising their activities! And, yes, things sometimes DO go wrong! Sometimes bandages, stitches, and doctor or hospital visits are required when you have kids–whether or not they are doing “dangerous” things! I believe if you constantly live in fear of what MIGHT go wrong, you, and your children, will miss out on a lot of great experiences and life lessons!
I hope you’ll read “The Overprotected Kid” and be inspired to loosen your reins a little, if necessary, to help encourage more independence and creativity in your own children!
I’d love to hear about the things you did as a child that you believe made you more independent, as well as what you’re allowing and encouraging your own children to do!