Children are getting fatter because they are not allowed to run around and play. This comes from parents wanting to wrap kids in cotton wool — also known as helicopter parenting.
There is a new push to get children to walk to school. This is something which previous generations just did but has largely disappeared over the last 25 years. There are many reasons for this but one of them is fear that “something will happen.” Remarkably whilst the government is promoting the benefits of walking to school, it is government safety policies which have contributed to its decline. The fear of litigation has also resulted in “adventure-less,” sanitized and boring playgrounds. Hence children get adventure on the Xbox rather than outside.
Sadly a local school had to recently fence off part of the playground, despite it being officially accredited as safe due to the agitation of a minority of paranoid parents.
American mother, Lenore Skenazy has a different view. She speaks about and raises “free range kids.” Lenore takes her children to the park and leaves them there to play with other kids and find their own way home. Her children walk to school unaccompanied.
This has led her to be described variably as a visionary and as “America’s worst Mum.” She urges parents to teach children independence and social skills by loosening the reigns.
I remember walking to school at around that age and remember going to the park or to friends houses by myself. The reason cited for not allowing this is that times have changed and it is no longer safe.
The reality is that it is as safe and probably safer now than 30 or 40 years ago. What is different is that the one child who goes missing almost anywhere in the world will be front page news all over the world. This creates a false sense of heightened danger.
The other interesting thing is that in wanting to protect children from danger, the over protective parents are leading them into greater danger. The risks of disease due to obesity are far greater and real than the risks of abduction or assault.
Furthermore, at some point they will venture out by themselves and at that point will be less prepared than they could be to judge people and situations. Here is an analogy that may simplify things. When learning to ride we go from riding a tricycle, to a bicycle with training wheels to an actual bike. Along the way we may fall off. As we get more confident we can go further and faster. At the start parents will be alongside the bike and there comes a day when the parent will not be. The same applies to crossing the street.
As children grow there is a gradual lessening of the control parents have. This is a fact. Ultimately, children need to be able to cope with a variety of situations in life and with an assortment of people. Whilst it is true that there are age appropriate things that we can allow children to do, there is nothing to suggest that this generation is any less capable than any of the preceding ones.
Children are different and parents are best placed to make these decisions. Some 12-year olds have the maturity of an eight year old and some ten-year olds have the maturity of a 13-year old. There is no one size fits all.
If the previous generation could play at the park and walk to school then so can this one. The dangers have not increased — the reporting of danger has.
Nothing happens in isolation. Seeking to protect children from harm is a primary role for a parent. Yet without falling over, a child will never learn to walk. By over parenting and not allowing children to be children we are leading them into a different form of harm.
So what do we do? Use common sense. Gradually let children do more each year. Make your aim to teach them how to cope with situations rather than trying to protect them from every single situation. Again this will evolve each year.
It sounds so obvious, but we need to let children be children.
Joe Kosterich is a physician in Australia who blogs at Dr. Joe Today.
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