I wanted to share this long but very worthwhile article published by The Atlantic, titled “The Overprotected Kid.” If you’re a parent, the findings in this article won’t surprise you: children, particularly middle- and upper-class children, are under almost constant observation. They have little independence or time to play in an unstructured environment. They are not allowed to go anywhere by themselves. They are not allowed to take risks or make their own decisions.
I worry about my son, now four years old, growing up in this fearful environment that we adults have created. Like anyone else, I am shocked and appalled by the constant barrage of child abduction stories on the cable news. However, I know the chances of my son being taken away by a complete stranger are very small, maybe just as unlikely as when my wife and I grew up in the 1970s and ’80s. Still, I’m not a responsible parent by today’s standards if I don’t do everything I possibly can to prevent a tragedy from happening.
Even through we live in a friendly, self-contained neighborhood where kids sometimes ride their bikes to each other’s houses, I know my son will never experience the free-wheeling childhood I enjoyed. From the time I was eight years old, my friends and I rode our bikes all over the place. We played around the lots where new homes were being built, and we looted spare construction materials to build a network of forts in the nearby woods. One Saturday, we built a massive dam of rocks, branches and mud in the creek near my home. We spent a whole afternoon joyfully slopping around in Georgia red clay that went up to our knees. Nobody watched us or seemed to care what we were doing. We were in our own world, a world that could sometimes be slightly dangerous and cruel. But it was ours. Our parents were on a strictly need-to-know basis about our activities.
I want my kid to have a safe, fun, healthy life. I also want him to have some level of freedom to interact with his friends without an adult getting involved. I want him to be able to take a few risks without fearing the consequences. Finally, I want him to enjoy playing outside. On Sunday, my son and went into the woods behind our house to cut down some small trees and brush, and “explore” the creek bed that snakes through our development. Then we went to the playground with our dog, and I watched my son climb around, swing and slide for about an hour.
It was a chilly but sunny day, and we spent most of the afternoon roaming around our neighborhood. As is often the case, we didn’t see another kid outside the whole time.