I was driving around my neighborhood recently. As it happened, it was while school was letting out. Stopping at a crosswalk for kids to go across, I thought: WHEN did it happen that adults had to be in charge of school crossings? I remember how proud I was being part of the school patrol—entrusted with the responsibility for the safety of fellow students. We didn’t have sidewalks; we weren’t always within viewing of the school; and some of the streets we covered were main arterials. And yet, there were no adults overseeing each and every crosswalk, let alone manning the crossing flag! And, by the way, somehow the kids got themselves to school by themselves—they weren’t escorted, chaperoned, safe-guarded from their house to the school in the morning with the reverse happening in the afternoon.
There’s a conflict in parenting–on the one hand, an infantilization of our children as mentioned above–driving and/or escorting them everywhere even when they’re perfectly capable of walking or biking; and on the other hand, believing they are adult enough to give them essentially unrestricted and unfiltered access to a medium where their true health and wellness is at stake, namely, the online world.
The 24/7 news cycle may be the root cause of the seemingly mass hysteria in parenting where children are overprotected to the point of smothering their emerging independence. They’re like birds in gilded cages or a marionette being controlled by a parental Stromboli. I’ve read stories where children are banned from riding their bikes to school. Or stories about parents called into Child Protective Services for letting their children play at the neighborhood park or even in their own backyard unsupervised(?!)
I think our Culture has attributed an (unrealistic) sophistication to children’s (natural) immaturity when it comes to Digital Age danger awareness. Just compare real world dangers posed with online dangers such as grooming by sexual predators, cyber-bullying, access to pornography and/or gambling. In truth, the real world dangers are much less a risk than those in the virtual world.
For me, the goal of parenting is to ultimately produce an independent, contributing member of society. Contributing encompassing full-time employment plus giving back in some way…notice I didn’t use the word ‘happy’. That was by design. I believe if you’re able to take care of yourself, make a difference in some way for others, happiness will find you.
Independence doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a lot of practice: trial and error; mistakes and corrections. That’s what makes PLAY the perfect vehicle and environment! Play provides a ‘safe’ way for expression. Play provides a ‘safe’ place for experimentation. In open-ended play—for example, the kind of play that happens in pretend play, there are no rules; there are no preconceived roles; the children are in charge; the play evolves and changes as needed, only limited by the children’s imagination and creativity.
All growth requires some risks!
PLAY lets kids practice matching their skills to the demands of a situation. It’s called risk assessment. If they haven’t been given adequate opportunities for trial and error in inconsequential situations (ie, during PLAY) they will be ill-prepared for the demands of adulthood.
You want your daughter to be able to resist the pressure of a future boyfriend to ‘prove’ she loves him by sexting a nude photo to him. You want your son have the self-confidence to say “NO” to participating in any group cyber-bullying or harassing.
So start laying the building blocks of their inner resources when they’re young by giving them time, freedom and space for PLAY. Growing up with the benefit(s) of PLAY is the best way for children to stand on their own two feet.
Yours in Play!