In case you haven't noticed, parents and schools today have done such a great job educating our children that they are now free to eliminate each small source of stress that could damage them for life. As written in the Wall St. Journal last week, various schools have eliminated the following dangers:
- Tag and touch football on the playground
- Saying "Swing, batter, swing" during Little League games
- Swing sets, crawl tubes, teeter-totters and merry-go-rounds
- College pranks - unless you have a permission slip
I wrote about another example in April, where parents at a baseball game had the scoreboard turned off because one team was beating the other too badly. Feelings might be hurt, of course.
Some years ago a generation of parents decided that the world was too dangerous and unkind a place for children. Safety helmets became mandatory, playground equipment was ripped out, peanut butter was banned, and neighborhood play was replaced by a fleet of minivans shuttling kids to structured fun.
Nearly every parent today has stories of the fun they used to have that would be impossible today. I remember biking a mile to a creek where we played for hours - the only rule was "be home by dark." We made bike ramps on construction sites. We played tackle football. We burned leaves with magnifying glasses. We even played dodgeball at school on Fridays. At college, we had kegs in our dorms.
I'm not sure why childhood innocence was lost. Maybe parents are more caring today on average; birth control allows parents to choose to have children, and people have fewer children, later in life. Maybe society is more advanced; we have a lower tolerance for suffering, whether it is in African genocide or backyard bullying. Maybe sophisticated marketing is to blame; the insurance companies push safety to reduce their costs, and special interests are better at building national attention around a single tragedy.
Whatever the reason for our extreme parental protectionism, I believe it is already weakening our society and threatening our future. Helicopter parents are shielding their children from the harsh lessons of life that will strengthen them later. Challenge leads to improvement, but today's kids are kept away from competition and failure.
Any change must happen one parent at a time. For me, I continue to encourage my kids to engage in free play in our backyard, I put a band-aid on their knee when they fall rather than banning the monkey bars, and I teach them how to deal with a bully on their own versus calling the school to complain. I hope they someday appreciate their Dad's choices and the dividends of the challenges they faced, and teach their children the same lessons.