Lisa Samson wrote a great blog on the youth of today. (Sounds stodgy but it's not, trust me; go read it.) She made a great point about how parents today limit their children's freedom so much. Once upon a time, summer meant taking off after breakfast and showing up somewhere around four-thirty in the afternoon, having filled the day with bike rides all over town, hours at the park, quick lunch at a friend's house, and who knows what else. Nowadays parents keep such close surveillance on their kids that they don't get to taste those same freedoms that we did.
Is this true everywhere, or just out here in SoCal? I mean, we have mountain lions and 45mph speed limits through the center of town and major streets absolutely everywhere, which is vastly different from the quiet neighborhood where I grew up and the pokey driving even on the main drag through town. But gosh, the miles I logged on my bike, riding to the park, riding to the library, riding to my friend Sara's house clear on the other side of town...no wonder I had the metabolism of a hummingbird back then. And it was so much FUN. That's the bottom line. Every day I got up I couldn't wait to see where I'd end up that day. And I just don't think our kids have that same feeling, because they know where they'll end up: the game room, the garage, the back yard, the front yard, or all those things at their friend's house. BORING.
When I was teaching, I saw this protection extend even further than just the physical parameters of kids' free-range areas. Parents were afraid to let their kids fail. Rather than treat a bad grade as an opportunity to learn from their mistakes (didn't study, didn't care, didn't write down the right page numbers to review, so now you've learned your lesson) parents acted like it was the end of the world and freaked out. (Start saving for the therapy now, folks!) I remember my first F. Math, second grade. Did the whole subtraction page in addition. Totally my fault; made an assumption and went with it instead of reading the direction. I got over it. Big deal. And I learned from it, lemme tell ya, because at 8 I was already very conscientious about my grades. Now when you write the letter F on a paper parents get mad at you for dashing their kids' self-esteem against the rocks. Like "32%" is any better.
Parents are also afraid to let their kids fall, both figuratively and physically. I've broken four bones in my body: wrist three times and thumb once. I've fallen out of a tree and sprained my ankle. I've fallen directly on my head and been knocked speechless. (Very weird experience--the words were totally in my head like I was saying them out loud, but my mouth wasn't working.) And everything still seems to be working as it should. But now parents are overly protective because heaven forbid little Johnny have to wear a cast for six weeks. Pul-leeze. You're the center of attention, people wanna sign your cast, it's great social exposure, and then you've got A Story. Kids today don't get stories because they're stuck inside playing SuperMario all day. Figuratively speaking, parents are afraid to let their kids "fall" as in "mess up." I used to tell my fifth grade parents at Back to School night every fall, "This is the year the straight A students will get a C or worse, and the year the angels will end up in detention. It happens. It's not the end of their world. These are excellent opportunities to help them learn from their mistakes, to show them you love them regardless, and to let them be human." And sure enough, the kid who had never "pulled a card" ended up pulling three and having to write an essay on respect. The kid who never got less than an A missed honor roll for the first time. And the kids who were okay with it were the kids whose parents said, "Wow, bummer, huh? What's up?" and not, "What happened!? Let me talk to your teacher about this...."
The plastic bubble is doing more harm than good. We've gotta find a way to let out kids out of the Habitrail and into the real world so they can learn to live their own lives and fend for themselves. I'm all for parental responsibility, but isn't part of our responsibility making sure our kids grow up with a healthy view of life?
And so we come to the end…
4 months ago