“The Overprotected Kid”, published in the Atlantic, has been circulating on Facebook. The goofy kid with broken, taped glasses and a silly grin drew my attention, but the byline under the title sucked me in:
“A preoccupation with safety has stripped childhood of independence, risk taking, and discovery—without making it safer.”
I thought, “What?!!” We have protected our children from every conceivable danger, imagined or real. We yelled at them when they crossed the street, for their own good. We kept a wary eye on their every movement. We cushioned every bump and angle, plugged up the electric sockets and planned every part of their lives from dawn to dusk with supervised activities and busyness to keep them from wandering into trouble. How could we have possibly failed to keep them safe?!
In spite of our best efforts, the article reminds us that child abductions still happen, children still get hurt on our “safe” playgrounds and accidents still happen. In fact, stranger abductions are as rare as they ever have been. Most abductions are by family. Family abductions seem to be an extension of the control we think we must have over our children. Mom (or dad) takes off with the children to keep them “safe” from other family members or simply to keep control of their situations, including their children.
From my childhood to the present time, parents have become much more controlling over the movements of their children, but The Overprotected Kid calls that approach into question. The article suggests that cushioning playgrounds inhibits healthy exploration of risk. Continual adult supervision prevents kids from being kids and owning their natural development as human beings. On the other hand, it does not make our children’s lives safer.
“… we have come to think of accidents as preventable and not a natural part of life.”
All of our efforts may not have made our children’s lives safer, but those controls have taken away the valuable self-exploration, freedom, creativity and independence that we had when we were children with consequences that are only now being realized and understood.
“There is a big difference between avoiding major hazards and making every decision with the primary goal of optimizing child safety (or enrichment, or happiness). We can no more create the perfect environment for our children than we can create perfect children. To believe otherwise is a delusion….”
As I was stewing on the controls that may have stunted my own children’s growth in comparison to the freedom I enjoyed and what that means for them, I read another article, “Difference Between Encouragement and Entitlement”, by blogger and author, Courtney Walsh. She suggests another game changer:
“Disappointment breeds greatness.”
Really?!! I don’t want my children to be disappointed… EVER! How many times have I wanted to give that coach a piece of my mind! How could they not see my kid’s greatness! How does this woman think that disappointment leads to greatness?!
Courtney Walsh cautions against rushing to our children’s defense at every sign of potential disappointment. She suggests that parents should “let” their children fail sometimes, that it is actually good for them. She believes that learning through failures leads to success.
Then the Sherlock Holmes in me detected a common thread: good parenting does not mean preventing our children from being hurt. Kids need to explore boundaries themselves, not the ones we put there for them, but the ones they discover and set for themselves. That does not mean that allow them to walk into actual harm, but they need some freedom to learn for themselves. They need to understand that missteps and mistakes hurt. We can not cushion every fall or rescue our kids from every disappointment and expect them to become healthy, well-rounded productive, creative members of society.
If we cushion our children from every disappointment by telling them always they are great, when sometimes they are not, and rescuing them from there not-so-greatness, we actually prevent them from growing. The “real world” is not full of people telling us we are great when we are not. If we continually tell our children there are great, when they are not so great, we are not, then, doing a very job of preparing our children to leave the safety of the nest.
Courtney Walsh suggests that people need to fight through disappointment and the consequences of our own not-so-greatness to become the best kind of people we are able to be, and we need to give (or allow) our children those opportunities.
Fighting through disappointment is actually the way to greatness. Great people are not born great. Greatness is not handed out like ribbons. The character of greatness is forged in the crucible of disappointment, failure, hard work, resilience, patience, perseverance and learning to believe in principals, values and, in the end, our own selves. That does not happen in a world that is controlled to be free of consequences.
I have included the links to both articles below. There is a theme. We parents cannot protect our kids from every harm or disappointment, and our efforts in doing so may actually produce another kind of harm and even more disappointment when our children find that the world does not think they are quite great as their parents told them they were – at least not without earning it!
I think there is a lesson of faith in there too. Jesus told us not worry. I worry more about my children than anything in my life. Does not God take care of the flowers in the field and the birds? Will He not all the more take care of us – and our children?! I am convinced more than ever that we (parents) have really blown it with the current generations. By “we” I mean Baby Boomers. We have “saved” our children from everything we feared and have stunted and stilted them in the process.