Every generation of parents wants the best for their children, but the idea of what is the best keeps changing. One hundred years ago, children left home at the age of fifteen to work in shops or on farms. Fifty years ago, children rode in automobiles with no car safety seats, mothers often holding babies on their laps. Today, many children are constantly protected with everything from infant car seats to bike helmets and knee pads.
They have adults watching them at all times, and if they are left with a sitter, their parents may even have wireless cameras installed so they can watch their kids even while they are having a date night. Is it too much? In the 2014 article in The Atlantic entitled “The Overprotected Kid” author Hanna Rosin argues that today’s children are so coddled and so carefully protected from every threat that they may be losing the ability to problem solve, to dream, and to simply have fun without an adult directing their every move.
The article opens with a description of The Land, a “adventure playground” in Wales that is designed to give children as much freedom as possible, whether that mean rolling old tires into a creek, using a pile of mattresses as a trampoline, or building a fire in an old oil drum (Rosin 2). While these activities are a far cry from how we think modern children should behave on a playground, to the designers of The Land, this type of environment offers children the chance to explore and experiment, facing risks and dealing with them. The experts believe that modern playgrounds, with their cookie-cutter layouts and emphasis on safety, take away all the fun and spontaneity of being a child (Rosin 3). The article points out that there are adults present to make sure that kids stay safe; however, the adults stay as far back as possible and don’t interfere with the children’s play unless it is absolutely necessary. In two years of operation, the author notes, the only injuries have been a few scraped knees (4).
While many people would read about this playground and be horrified at the risk of fire, germs, and injuries, I think it is an excellent idea. Like the creators of The Land, I believe that today’s children are overprotected and so limited in their play that freedom and creativity are being destroyed in the name of safety. Rosin quotes a child safety expert, Joe Frost, who feels that the process has gone too far: “In the real world, life is filled with risks—financial, physical, emotional, social—and reasonable risks are essential for children’s healthy development (Rosin 12).” The article goes on to note that despite thirty years of creation of “safe” (and boring) playgrounds, the number of injuries and deaths resulting from playground use have hardly changed at all (15). What has changed is the child’s freedom to explore, make mistakes, and learn. Today’s children are seldom out of sight of an adult, whether it is a parent, teacher, or paid caretaker. Their playtime consists of team sports, playdates, and supervised activities, and these really don’t offer kids the chance to work out their own conflicts or use their imaginations to entertain themselves (19).
While Rosen’s article focuses on the opinions of psychologists and other childcare experts, a second article, “Welcome to the Age of Overparenting” by Katherine Ozment in Boston Magazine, is written from the viewpoint of a parent who freely admits that she hovers over her children, worries about them obsessively, and is beginning to realize that:
If I continue on this path, not only will my kids never have the wherewithal to build an igloo after a snowstorm, they won’t even have the freedom or imagination to try. Watching them play halfheartedly in their meager little forts, I knew I had to change. (Ozment 2)
Ozment freely admits that she is trying to raise her children differently than she was raised. As a child of divorce, she didn’t feel like she got enough attention from her busy mother, and she vowed to do it differently with her own children. Along with her friends, she embraced the modern view of parenting, with lots of bonding, structured activities, and “love notes in their lunchboxes (Ozment 2).” She admits that she wants her children to constantly share emotionally, and that they are beginning to pull away as a result (3). She decides to attend a seminar with author Michael Thompson, who advocates letting children “disengage” from their parents, even in such small ways as allowing children to go to overnight camps and not checking on them every hour or so, as many anxious parents do (4).
Ozment goes on to share her constant worries about her children, how she spent time on the Web looking for “hidden dangers” and bought everything from lead-test strips to radon detectors, only to discover that her house was perfectly safe (6). She shares that she is beginning to understand that by hovering over her children, she is denying them to opportunity to learn and grow.
I agree wholeheartedly with both articles. Too many children are so overprotected, both physically and emotionally, that they can’t handle an emergency or deal with a disappointment. I understand that parents want their children to be safe, but in most cases, the parents’ fears are overblown. When I was growing up, I never wore a helmet when riding my bike. Yes, I fell off, more than once, in fact, but I never suffered a life-changing head injury. In fact, I seldom suffered anything worse than a scraped knee or elbow. When I went to visit my grandmother in the small town where she lived, my greatest thrill was when she let me light the trash barrel in the back yard and burn a week’s worth of newspapers. I never caught myself on fire. I climbed trees, and I fell out of a couple, but I got up and walked away. I firmly believe that today’s children need to be allowed to take reasonable risks, or they will grow up not knowing how to take any risks at all.