Stop Coddling Kids
You’ve seen them, I’m sure. Those silly, social media messages that celebrate the idyllic, unfettered childhoods of the Baby Boomer generation.
They usually start by reminding us that we drank out of garden hoses. That we played outside until the streetlights came on. That we didn't get a trophy unless we actually won something.
That we ate paste.
Often they note that if we wanted money we mowed a neighbor’s lawn or got a paper route rather than ask our stingy Depression-era parents for cash.
Beyond that, our moms didn’t run us to the doctor if we had the sniffles. If we had stitches we usually took them out ourselves rather than go back to the family doc.
We knew our parents would side with the teachers if we got in trouble. Our dads told us never to start a fight, but never to walk away from one either.
Kids like me - short and skinny - were always the last picked for any team. When we whined about it, our parents were unsympathetic, saying things like, “You’re a shrimp. Deal with it.”
Our parents didn’t care about our self esteem. They worried that we’d be too full of ourselves.
It’s worth remembering, in the glow of such warm nostalgia, that not everything was perfect in the 1950s and ‘60s. There was racism. Polio. People died in car wrecks for lack of seatbelts.
Still, in retrospect, it was a terrific time to be a kid.
When we had children of our own we were convinced that the world was a far more dangerous place than it was when we were young.
So our offspring had scheduled playdates instead of unstructured free time with neighborhood friends. We drove them to school rather than allowing them to walk. We gave them cell phones so we could keep in constant contact.
"Dangerous" equipment was removed from playgrounds. Shoot, lots of schools scrapped recess altogether.
But guess what happened next?
The New York Times reports that in England, education experts realized that a coddled childhood brings its own kind of perils. Soft kids aren’t prepared for adulthood. They're not creative. They can't solve problems.
So some English schools introduced "risk-enhanced playgrounds".
These areas now include construction material and thorny plants where kids can explore, get dirty and even sustain minor injuries.
"Out went the plastic playhouses and in came the dicey stuff: stacks of two-by-fours, crates and loose bricks. The schoolyard got a mud pit, a tire swing, log stumps and workbenches with hammers and saws," reports The Times.
In classrooms, youngsters use scissors and "sharp-edged tape dispensers".
“It’s O.K. to have some risk of children falling over and bashing into things,’” one teacher told the newspaper. “That’s not the same as being reckless and sending a 2-year-old to walk on the edge of a 200-foot cliff unaccompanied."
Germany has a slightly different wrinkle on the same theme: "Forest kindergartens," where very young children "run amok" in the fresh air instead of staying indoors and simply studying nature.
The trend toward deliberately riskier recreation has spread as far as Australia and Canada, the Times reports.
But here in litigious America?
Our kids are still rolling around in those colorful rubber balls at McDonald’s, stuffing their little faces with French fries and calling it "playtime".
Maybe it's time to bring back the garden hoses. The streetlight curfews. The tasty paste.
After all, we survived.