Monday, March 24, 2014

In Defense of Today's Parent pointed me to The Overprotected Kid, a recent story in the Atlantic.

It seemed to me the usual parenting lament: kids have lost the freedom that we had as children, and are worse off for it.

While my parenting experience is pretty dang thin, it didn't stop me from wanting to chime in on a number of points:

When my daughter was about 10, my husband suddenly realized that in her whole life, she had probably not spent more than 10 minutes unsupervised by an adult. Not 10 minutes in 10 years.

Whoa. I suppose I put this in the "life is full of choices" category. Children benefit from structured (read: supervised) activities and unstructured activities. As a parent, I suppose you've got to find that balance for them. Kudos to the author's husband for detecting that something was out of whack.

It is no longer easy to find a playground that has an element of surprise, no matter how far you travel. Kids can find the same slides at the same heights and angles as the ones in their own neighborhood, with many of the same accessories. I live in Washington, D.C., near a section of Rock Creek Park, and during my first year in the neighborhood, a remote corner of the park dead-ended into what our neighbors called the forgotten playground. The slide had wooden steps, and was at such a steep angle that kids had to practice controlling their speed so they wouldn’t land too hard on the dirt.

I hear this argument all the time and I'm not buying it. We live across the river in (the liberal bastion known as) Arlington, and while the playgrounds are filled with the plastic molded apparatuses the author describe, they seem a lot more interesting than the playgrounds I remember growing up. Seriously, check out the climbing structure in Butler Holmes Park. This photo of it simply doesn't do it justice. How it's considered safe to allow kids to climb to the top of it, is beyond me. We we took some friends kids there a couple weeks ago and they loved it. I'm far too afraid of heights to even go up past the lowest level. And keep an eye on Rocky Run Park, the playground going in there looks like it should be a fun one.

Or better yet, skip the playground altogether and explore places like Donaldson Run or Windy Run. They are as close by as any local playground, but are of the natural variety. The stream crossing and steep rock climbs should give a thrill to any kid.

It’s still morning, but someone has already started a fire in the tin drum in the corner, perhaps because it’s late fall and wet-cold, or more likely because the kids here love to start fires.

I'm all for kids learning to start fires. And play with knives. And wield axes. And shoot bows and arrows. And fire rifles. But I'm also convinced that learning these activities in a structured environment is a good thing. For me, Boy Scouts was the ticket to learning all this, and I can't recommend it enough.

Actions that would have been considered paranoid in the ’70s—walking third-graders to school, forbidding your kid to play ball in the street, going down the slide with your child in your lap—are now routine. In fact, they are the markers of good, responsible parenting.

OK, you got me on the walking to school part. When I was talking to Shira about this article, and mentioning how I was fine with letting our 7 year old play in his room with a friend doing, gosh knows what; and I was fine with taking him backpacking and playing with fire, she stumped me with this question. "But would you let him walk alone to playground, and play there unsupervised?"

I suppose the answer is no. I wouldn't be OK with sending a 7 year old out into the neighborhood and expect him to return when the street lights came on, like I did when we were kids. But, in my defense, the neighborhood of my youth had two important things going for it. First, there was a high density of children. Literally every other house had kids in it, so it was hardly a stretch to find a group to play with. And second, there was a range of ages all playing together. So sure, my 4 year old brother may have been out playing "alone", but he was doing so with me as a 7 year old, my older brother as a 10 year old and possibly older kids in the neighborhood.

If there was a posse of kids around like that, I'd have much fewer reservations about letting our (now hypothetical) 7 year old roam around with them.

I'm not sure why this sort of article fires me up so much. Heck, I'm not even a parent (at the moment), so why should I even care? I think it boils down to the fact that there may have been a noticeable shift to overprotected parenting, but we should know better now. And not only that, but there are resources out there to make that happen. Or maybe it's just my general unease with any article that paints the past as purely rose colored. Sure, the playgrounds of years past were terrific, unless of course you were in a wheelchair. Then yeah, good luck with that.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous11:35 PM

    Thanks for defending today's parents. You are absolutely right. There is safety in numbers, and the parents of decades past knew that they could rely on it. There just aren't as many kids home in the afternoons anymore. They are all at supervised activities. Also, in the 70's my mother knew she could rely on a network of stay at home mothers to keep an eye and and ear out for the neighborhood kids just as she did. Today, that neighborhood network is largely gone. I'm not advocating going back to the patriarchal set-up of the 50's and 60's, I'm simply pointing out that it is highly unlikely that parents ever just set their children loose without feeling there were attentive adults close by.