Monday, May 12, 2014

The risks of overprotecting our kids

There's a neat story in the Atlantic by Hanna Rosin called "The Overprotected Kid."  It's about the consequences of overprotecting children.

The article explains that when we overprotect our children, when we take all the risk out of life with helmets, and seat belts, and safe playgrounds, sunscreens, germicides, and rules that don't allow children to be children, they don't learn how to take risks.

In fact, some studies show that more children are getting injured on playgrounds that are supposed to be safer for children because they are being so protected they aren't learning how to make calculated risks.

Risk is something that has to be learned, and most of us learn it by trial and error; we learn it by being kids.  We learn it by climbing play areas that are not safe, and we learn how not to fall off the top.  When we do fall, when we do get hurt, we learn how not to do it again, or how to do it better, safer, the next time around.

A good example is when I was a eight my mom let me ride my bike on the road to the neighbors house down the street.  I was so proud to be riding by myself.  I remember I was carrying a sack of toys, so I had to hold it in my left hand as my left hand's on the handlebars.  I'm riding along, enjoying the breeze, and maybe there was a smile on my face, I don't know.

But my point is, that I was allowed to do this.  I was allowed to ride my bike by myself.  It wasn't a long ride, but to me, at the height of that moment, it seemed like it was.  Then, all of a sudden, my knee came up and hit the bottom of the sack, and the front tire of the bike jackknifed, and I did a header off of the bike.  I did a somersault in the middle of the street.

Luckily, I didn't get badly hurt, and I've had some little cuts and some bruises and abrasions, and I was just mad. Actually, I was embarrassed.  Once I gathered myself, I collected my stuff.  The sack had emptied out.  So had to put everything back in the sack and ride home, and I couldn't wait to tell my mother what she had caused.

I said, "Look what happened."

She said, "What happened to you?" She inspected my knee, and my hands, and my elbow, and my head, and she said, "Well, go put some stuff on it." That was it.  And the medicine she put on it was iodine, a medicine that hurt. Today, even the medicine tastes good and doesn't hurt. There's not even any risk to taking medicine, at least as far as bad taste or anything, but that's a story for another post.

So what did I learn.  I learned not to be stupid with the bike.  I learned not to space out when riding a bike.  I learned to pay attention to what I was doing when riding a bike.  The end result is that I became smarter. I became a better bike rider.

When we protect our kids from any potential danger, they don't learn to take risks. They don't do things for themselves, and so they don't get better and they don't learn anything but how to be safe and scared. Then, when they are exposed to danger, they don't know what to do.

Today, thanks in part to the idealists who think a perfect world is possible, our kids are protected from all dangers.  We provide safety nets for our kids, so that when they fall we say things like, "Oh, poor, Johnny!  I will protect you every time you get a boo boo."

My mom would never say, "Oh, I'm so sorry!  I'm so sorry!  I won't let this happen to you again.  I will protect you from danger."  No, none of that.  I'm not saying she wouldn't have empathy, but she didn't over coddle or over protect us.

I don't do that either with my kids, or at least I try not to.  Actually, I don't have the energy to overprotect my kids.  I have to work.  I don't have time to protect my kids from everything.  There comes a point, as my dad said to me once about us, that you have to let your kids go and trust that you did a good job raising them.

I remember playing catch with my oldest son when he was eight, and I threw a ball at him hard because I knew he could catch it, he had already shown he could many times, but this time it hit him square in the chest.  He cried, "Dad!  Why did you do that!"  He was mad.  All I said was, "Come on!  Get up!"  He pouted a few moments, and then he got up. He got up and he tossed the ball back at me as hard as he could, barely missing my head.  Then we played catch another hour.

It was cold, too, very cold.  It was early in spring, and it was probably only in the 40s, so that hit probably stung a long time.  But what he learned was to be tough. He learned not to be a wussy.  I've had similar experience with my daughter who is now 10.  She gets hurt, blames me, and I don't provide sympathy.  So she gets madder.  Then she continues on.

I don't want my kids to grow up as wussies, although there are many parents who do give into the pressure, and their kids become wussified.  Their parents offer safety nets.  It's one thing to be smart, but it's yet another to provide so many safety next that kids don't learn to take risks, to learn important lessons from trips and falls and failures.

The same is true as kids grow up.  It used to be that when a kid grows up, when he turns 18, he leaves the house and he never comes back.  He is on his own.  If he fails, he had to pick himself back up and keep going.  When he gets fired, he gets mad, maybe even sad, but he has no choice but to pick himself up and move on, because he knew there were no safety nets.  He knew mommy and daddy wouldn't be there to bail him out.

My parents offered some safety nets.  They had to because I had asthma and had a tougher road than most people.  When I was fired from my first job after college, I was allowed to stay on my parent's insurance and live with them.  I loafed around, drank beer with my friends, spent every last dime I had, and then I had nothing: no money and no pride.

Then my dad said to me, "You need to do something.  You need to get a job." He even helped me get some small jobs, and every time I did one, even if it was a job I hated doing, he'd say, "There, don't you feel better!"

I remember one job he gave me was ripping up a carpet in an old house.  I said, "Dad, I have asthma.  I can't do that."  He said, "You can wear a mask!"  He did not sympathise with me.  He did not say, "Oh, poor Johnny."  He just said, "You can wear a mask."

I did. And, not wanting my dad to think I was a wuss, I did a great job.  I worked hard ripping up that carpet. I had to take many breaks, and I did have an asthma attack, but I kept working through it.  I was tough because I didn't want to disappoint my dad.

Another thing dad had all us kids do was go into the woods to haul and stack wood.  It was tough on me, but I learned that you didn't say anything to dad unless you were really, truly sick.  You toughed it out.  And I did learn to tough it out.  I learned toughness.

Sometimes I took this too far, and would work until I couldn't breathe, and I would still keep going.  I remember one day sitting on the couch because I was not breathing really good, and my brother wanted me to play football.  It was Thanksgiving day, and it was cold outside, and there was chimney smoke in the air.  I didn't want to play out among all those asthma triggers when I was already feeling sick.

But my older brother Bobby said, "You are a waste of skin."  That was all it took. I didn't want my brother to think I was a wussy, so I went outside.  I played, giving 100%.  I ran.  I threw the ball.  I took hits.  I was dinged and banged up from my finger tips to my toes, and from my skin to my lungs.  I felt so miserable by halftime I couldn't move because my bones and muscles ached, and I also couldn't hardly breathe.

But that didn't stop me.  I went inside every half hour to take a breathing treatment. I would puff on my nebulizer until my breath came back, then I'd sneak past my parents because I was afraid they'd tell me I was too sick to play.  I went back to the makeshift football field and I'd play more football until I couldn't breathe anymore and then I'd repeat the cycle.  I learned toughness.

On a side note here, I discussed this with my brother years later, and he apologized vigorously for calling me a waste of skin.  I said, "Don't be.  You actually did me a favor."

My parents owned a lot of land, and sometimes we'd wander past our property line and go all the way to where the old city dump was.  My mom would be sleeping, and she would have no clue where we were.  Once we were playing around old tar pits.  We'd be swinging from trees. Once I got brave and climbed all the way to the top of this tree and I fell out of the tree.

I got cuts and scrapes and bruises all over my body.  I think I might even have fractured a rib.  I went into the house and my mom looked at me and said, "You're fine!"  Five minutes later I was back in the tree doing it again. I knew I could do it right this time, and I did.  I learned toughness.

It never occurred to us to think what would have happened to us if our parents were too attuned to us. But I'm thankful they didn't overprotect us.
For the past several years, however, parents are taught to overprotect their children. So what happened as a result? What happens to those kids that are babied, sheltered, protected?

They grow up thinking they're not capable of doing anything on their own. They grow up totally risk-averse. They grow up, basically, afraid of reality. If they've been sheltered and protected and provided for, they're raised and they end up with no confidence, which gave rise to the self-esteem movement in our schools.

Because we realized our children didn't like themselves because they had not again given a chance to develop love for themselves. They were so overly protected, provided for, taken care of, sheltered, that they didn't grow up. One of the focal points was risk. They just weren't allowed to take any because the fear of failure, the fear of damage, the fear of the risk resulting in pain.

That's probably the primary thing that these overprotective parents wanted to avoid was any pain or suffering on the part of the Little Johnny and Little Sally. And if they could do that, then they would be good parents. "There's enough trouble out there without Little Johnny and Little Sally being protected from it. So we need to protect them from any pain, any suffering," and, as such, we end up with really strange but unprepared kids. 

Not mine, but many kids in today's America, don't learn to do things on their own, and the result is they don't learn the lessons of doing things on their own.  They become adults, but they don't amount to anything. 

This is almost the exact opposite of when I was a kid.  I can't even count how many times my mom said, "You are never going to amount to anything."  Today parents would be sued by their kids for saying such things.  But, back then, it made us better.  It motivated us.  And, in the end, all six of my parent's siblings are successful members of society.

How many of you had parents who said, "You can't do that"? A lot of kids do. It's not healthy, obviously. But other parents are totally laissez-faire. "Go try it and do what you want." That's how my parents were.  That's how I try to be as a parent.  I know I can't protect my kids from everything.  I know my kid is on the Internet right now, and I have confidence that he will make smart choices.

Of course we didn't have the Internet, but this is how it was when we were kids. We did things.  If we screwed up we were lectured and maybe even spanked.  But we went back at doing things after pouting, and we learned to become confident at the things we succeeded in.  When we failed, when we fell, we learned that you didn't always, shouldn't always, go crying back to mommy and daddy.  Heck, mom would get mad at us if we woke her up from her nap.  

But there was pride in competence, learning you were able to do something. There was pride in being able to take care of yourself. There was sense of achievement in independence, being able to handle things yourself without having to run to mommy or daddy.

Here is another quote from the article:
Children are born with the instinct to take risks in play, because historically, learning to negotiate risk has been crucial to survival; in another era, they would have had to learn to run from some danger, defend themselves from others, be independent. Even today, growing up is a process of managing fears and learning to arrive at sound decisions.
By engaging in risky play, children are effectively subjecting themselves to a form of exposure therapy, in which they force themselves to do the thing they’re afraid of in order to overcome their fear. But if they never go through that process, the fear can turn into a phobia. Paradoxically, [Ellen Sandseter, a professor of early-childhood education at Queen Maud University College] writes, 'our fear of children being harmed,' mostly in minor ways, 'may result in more fearful children and increased levels of psychopathology."
You see, there's lessons learned from failure. From failure, from falling, we learn how to thrive, we learn how to get back up and stay up. Too many kids today are not learning how to thrive because society has provided for them so many safety nets they have essentially become wussies.  When I was a kid, if you were a wussy you were mocked and ridiculed.

All of this made us better, stronger as adults.

Today kids are coddled and soothed with words like, "Oh, I'm so sorry."  We don't want them to have their feelings hurt.  There are actually school systems that won't fail any kids because they are afraid of hurting their feelings or otherwise scarring them.

When we were kids, as we got older and tried more things and mastered more activities, we grew, and we learned to take on greater risks. And then we learned to assess the risk.

The article notes:
"These days middle-class children, at least, skip these milestones. They spend a lot of time in the company of adults, so they can talk and think like them, but they never build up the confidence to be truly independent and self-reliant," if they come from overprotective parents.
There are some schools that don't give grades because it's not fair that some people get good grades while you are failing.  When I was a kid if you didn't get good grades you were put in a special class.  I had that happen to me once, and what it did was motivate me to do better.

When I was in the 6th grade kids picked on me big time.  Once I cried to a teacher, and she told me to go beat the bully up.  I talked to my parents about it, and they sent me to Karate class and told me that if I ever decided to beat up the bully they would support me.  Heck, I even had teachers tell me that.

There was no coddling. There was no, "Oh, Johnny, we feel so bad for you." And there was never anything said to the bully.  In order for me to deal with the bully, it was up to me to stand up for myself.

One teacher said to me that I could stay in for recess, and I said, "No!  I'll go outside."  Several years later I talked to this teacher, and he said how impressed he was that I did that.

That was a tough year, perhaps the toughest of my life, but it made me who I am today.  Kids picked on me because I was a wussy, and I may even have been a wussy because I had asthma, but they forced me to be tough. They forced me to develop the character needed to survive in this tough world.

Today we are told we are not smart enough to be parents on our own, so the government tells us what we have to do to raise good children.  They tell us we need to have an "inti-bullying society."  It's rooted in the belief that we, as parents, are incompetent. 

They say things like:
 "You don't know how to raise a child. You didn't know how to raise yourself! You don't know how to spend your money the right way. You don't know the right kind of car to drive. You don't know the right way to eat. You're not responsible enough even to get the right health care or health care policy. We have to do that for you! You're not responsible enough to get yourself from point A to point B. We gotta get you there in mass transit and we gotta put you in the right kind of car if you're not gonna use mass transit.
So it's become just as much control over all of life as they can secure for themselves rooted in their belief that you are incompetent. And they have succeeded in influencing parenthood to the point that they've raised millions of kids that are incompetent now, with no confidence, no ability to achieve independently.

For the first 160 plus years of this nation, or at least until the 1960s or so, because that's when our culture started to change, that's when liberals and idealists started to take control over social issues, kids were raised to be independent.  When kids were 17 or 18, when they were done with school, they wanted to go out on their own and be independent.  They wanted to get a job and be completely independent of their parents.

But the difference today is that the Democrat Party, the American left is raising their own kids, and they want all kids to be raised dependent on them, dependent on the state. That's from where they derive their electoral power, is everybody being dependent on them, on the government or what have you. And so these kids are raised being taught about the beauties of the state and the wonderment of government and the fairness and the equality of all of it.

In order to accomplish this they need to protect kids with safety nets.  In order to do this they need to make parents feel guilty when they don't protect their kids from failure.  

At the same time, kids are raised being warned of all of the meanness and the unfairness and the inequality and the extremism that's out there. And you've gotta be careful, 'cause everybody wants to harm you and damage you and take advantage of you and relegate you to insignificance. And that's the difference. Kids aren't being raised to be independent today -- by design and on purpose, by liberals, anyway.

Today when people get fired we give them food stamps, supplements to purchase insurance and homes, unemployment for up to six months.  Liberals have created such a system of safety nets that people begin to feel so comfortable that they don't ever have an incentive to do anything with their lives.  They become lazy. They become little piglets dependent on the mother pig.  They have no incentive to get off their asses and take risks.

Risk is where confidence, competence, pride, feelings of self worth, toughness, wealth, and stuff like that, are learned.  My dad knew this.  My mom know this. Surely they tried to provide as safe an environment as they could, surely they coddled us when we needed it.  But, as my dad said every time I helped him do a job, no matter how tough that job was: "Don't you feel better now?  Don't you just feel a sense of accomplishment?"

The answer was always: "Yes!"