I will be the first to admit that I am an extremely cautious parent. Anyone who knows me is going to read this post and think I’m a hypocrite. That’s why I need to write it.
What are some of the things kids need in order to be confident, capable and healthy?
- Kids need adventure, physical activity, and time in the outdoors.
- Kids need to learn about their own physical limits by testing and expanding them.
- Kids need the opportunity to interact with the real world in order to develop skills to help them deal with it safely.
- Kids need to learn how to deal with failure.
But, in order to do these things:
- Kids need to climb trees, they need to skin their knees, and they need to have unfortunate encounters with bees, poison ivy and prickly bushes.
- Kids need to be exposed to varied and sometimes scary environments.
- Kids need to get hurt.
- Kids need to eat dirt.
- Kids need to be allowed to fail.
Of course we want to keep our children safe. When my little boy pulled a chair on top of himself and cut his nose, the first time he put a tooth through his lip, and the first time he took a decent spill on his bicycle (see above), I felt like a failure as a parent. We do what we can, but things happen, and we can’t let fear send us cowering into a corner.
Teachers, parents, law-makers, planners and developers are facing stricter and stricter guidelines (not to mention legal implications) when it comes to caring for children, and designing spaces for them. However, by removing all elements of risk, you also remove opportunities for adventure, exploration, experimentation and skill-development.
There are some very significant ironies in this trend.
- The biggest risks in life are encouraged by “safe, indoor activities” like video games and TV. These risks include things like obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and a host of other health problems that will ultimately be far more dangerous for your children than time spent outdoors.
- The mastery of physical skills in controlled environments actually reduces risk in other situations as children are able to develop necessary judgement and physical skills.
There must be a happy middle ground that lies somewhere between bubble-wrapped children, and wild, cliff-jumping daredevils. We are all charged with finding this middle ground. This means accepting “reasonable risk” as a necessary partner to childhood development. As parents, this means letting children climb trees, get dirty and even fall down sometimes. As law-makers and planners, this means refusing to let fear become the primary factor driving the way we plan for children.
As an anxious and over-cautious parent, I must continue to remind myself of this balance. I must challenge myself, as well as my children to experiment and try new things. When they fall (and they will), I must pick my children up, dust them off, and encourage them to keep going.