Lately, parenting chat boards I frequent have been full of posts with worried questions about BPA in supermarket receipts, toxins in sunscreen, whether or not to “redshirt” our kindergardeners and why over-praising our children actually ends up harming their self-esteem. There’s a lot to worry about these days as a parent. In many ways, it’s kind of sad to think about all the things that just aren’t safe to do anymore. I wish I could just let my kids play in front of our house all day & occasionally peek at them from the kitchen window. As a very young girl my parents drove a VW van throughout Europe picking up hitchhikers as a way to determine our destination….who the hell would do that now???? But we had some amazing adventures. None of which involved car seats.
Are we protecting our children too much? Some parenting experts would probably say yes. Remember the debates about “helicopter parents“? As a parent myself, it is hard (or even impossible) to allow our children to be hurt, teased, ignored or disappointed let alone poisoned by a toxic baby bottle!
In Wendy Mogel’s bestselling book “The Blessings Of A Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings To Raise Self-Reliant Children” she writes:
“Parents’ urge to overprotect their children is based on fear. Fear of strangers, the streets, the Internet, the mall. Fear of the child’s not being invited to the right parties or accepted by the right schools. Fear about safety, sex, disease, and drugs. In my parenting classes there are always lots of questions about fear and its flip side, freedom…Real protection means teaching children to manage risks on their own, not shielding them from every hazard. Worrying excessively about discrimination while not letting your child walk around the block on their own can create highly conscious cripples.”
As I was thinking about all of these things today, I got a funny email through the multiples club I belong to:
“TO ALL THE KIDS WHO SURVIVED THE 1940s, 50s, 60s, 70s and 80’s!!
First, we survived being born to mothers who smoked and/or drank while they were pregnant. They took aspirin, ate blue cheese dressing, tuna from a can and didn’t get tested for diabetes.
Then after that trauma, we were put to sleep on our tummies in baby cribs covered with bright colored lead-base paints.
We had no childproof lids on medicine bottles, locks on doors or cabinets and when we rode our bikes, we had baseball caps not helmets on our heads.
As infants & children, we would ride in cars with no car seats, booster seats, seat belts or air bags. Riding in the back of a pick up truck on a warm day was always a special treat.
We drank water from the garden hose and not from a bottle. We shared one soft drink with four friends, from one bottle and no one actually died from this.
We ate cupcakes, white bread, real butter and bacon. We drank Kool-aid made with real white sugar. And, we weren’t overweight. WHY? Because we were always outside, playing…that’s why!
We would leave home in the morning and play all day, as long as we were back when the streetlights came on. No one was able to reach us all day. And, we were O.K.
We would spend hours building our go-carts out of scraps and then ride down the hill, only to find out we forgot the brakes. After running into the bushes a few times, we learned to solve the problem.
We did not have Playstations, Nintendo’s and X-boxes. There were no video games, no 150 channels on cable, no video movies or DVD’s, no surround-sound or CD’s, no cell phones, no personal computers, no Internet and no chat rooms.
WE HAD FRIENDS and we went outside and found them!
We fell out of trees, got cut, broke bones and teeth and there were no lawsuits from these accidents.
We ate worms and mud pies made from dirt, and the worms did not live in us forever.
We were given BB guns for our 10th birthdays, made up games with sticks and tennis balls and, although we were
told it would happen, we did not put out very many eyes.
We rode bikes or walked to a friend’s house and knocked on the door or rang the bell, or just walked in and talked to them.
Little League had tryouts and not everyone made the team. Those who didn’t had to learn to deal with disappointment. Imagine that!!
The idea of a parent bailing us out if we broke the law was unheard of. They actually sided with the law!
These generations have produced some of the best risk-takers problem solvers and inventors ever.
The past 50 years have been an explosion of innovation and new ideas. We had freedom, failure, success and responsibility, and we learned how to deal with it all.
If YOU are one of them, CONGRATULATIONS!
Kind of makes you want to run through the house with scissors, doesn’t it?”
I laughed when I read this, both because I remembered so much of this from my own childhood and because I realized how different it all was from the way I am raising our children now. Was this necessarily a bad thing? There’s a lot to be said for some of the things we know now. But the line about these previous generations producing some of the world’s greatest risk takers stuck with me.
And so, I wondered, where does that leave us as parents in the “new millennium”? As we learn more and more about child development we begin to get a glimpse into what is possible for our cherished babies; what is possible for their brains and bodies if only we don’t expose them them to toxic chemicals in their food containers; what is possible for their future if only they are accepted into that school that professes to be the best at tapping into their creative and intellectual potential; what is possible for them, emotionally, if only they always feel included, adored, self-assured, smart and so on. It’s enough to drive any involved parent batty. Believe me, my heart feels like it is going to be ripped out whenever a child at a playground won’t share with my children and I admit that I fell victim to the pressure of wanting to give them the best head start at getting into Harvard by trying to find the “best” preschool for them and I’m certainly not planning to re-introduce BPA into our house any time soon. But I also try to let my kids be kids. Again, from “The Blessings Of A Skinned Knee”:
“Securing babies in car seats and requiring children to wear helmets while bicycling makes sense. But going too far in the direction of protecting children can backfire, leaving them fearful of stepping out into the world on their own…Having the courage not to pamper and overprotect your child means that sometimes she will be uncomfortable, unhappy or even in peril, but that you are willing to take a chance because of your commitment to her growth and development.”
I know that we are talking about two different things here: the protection against the outside world of toxins, child predators, television, the Internet and so forth, and protecting our children’s inner worlds so that the way they handle experiences allows them to grow up into resilient, confident, happy people. To watch someone you love struggle and fail is incredibly hard; and it is so easy to get caught up in the fear about parenting that is created by the media and internet gossip. But to be so afraid of the world and the chance that our children might get hurt, physically or emotionally, is actually doing more harm to them than any leeching plastic plate or exclusion from a birthday party ever could. It is through our biggest disappointments, rejections and struggles that we grow as people and know what we are capable of. Are we raising a generation of children given every opportunity, but shielded from reality? I want my children to grow up knowing that life isn’t always fair, the world isn’t perfect and there are things out there that aren’t so pretty…if we try to hide all that’s imperfect, how will we ever raise children who have passion to bring change to this world?