Worst case scenario

/ 11 May 2009

Mary loves walking Nathaniel to the school bus because it is a time that he often shares things happening in his life that she might not otherwise learn about. I can understand that. I love those moments of sharing. Still, I wish we could let our kids go a bit further afield. The other day I let Nathaniel go to the local park with two friends to play basketball. That earned me a horrified look and an order to head over to the park myself to keep an eye on the three of them. I went, I played b-ball too, I had fun. But I failed to let Nathaniel and his friends own the afternoon.

Today Andrew pointed me to an interview of Lenore Skenazy. Remember her? She let her 9 year old ride the subway alone in New York, earning all sorts of praise and condemnation. I believe she is right, we fundamentally wrap our kids in too much “protection”. They need room to grow, we keep them in pots way too small.

You want kids to feel like the world isn’t so dangerous. You want to teach them how to cross the street safely. You want to teach them that you never go off with a stranger. You teach them what to do in an emergency, and then you assume that generally emergencies don’t happen, but they’re prepared if they do. Then, you let them go out.

The fun of childhood is not holding your mom’s hand. The fun of childhood is when you don’t have to hold your mom’s hand, when you’ve done something that you can feel proud of. To take all those possibilities away from our kids seems like saying: “I’m giving you the greatest gift of all, I’m giving you safety. Oh, and by the way I’m taking away your childhood and any sense of self-confidence or pride. I hope you don’t mind.”

Amen. Of course, some kids will be hurt this way, but you know, kids get hurt every way you turn. How do kids get hurt the most? By being in cars with their parents.

We visit my grandmother in Austria regularly. On a recent trip my kids worked up a “Vienna Culture” comic book. Many pages were devoted to public transit, and one in particular to kids taking public transit to school. Alone. Heck, I took public transit alone in Cleveland, Ohio, from third to sixth grade. Why do we run school busses hither and yon instead of making public transit more multi-age and core to our society?

We worry so much about the worst case scenario instead of celebrating the varied and welcoming world around us. The irony is that the more we wall ourselves and our children off from the chaotic and beautiful world around us, the more that world loses its light and our children fail to thrive. Sounds like a vicious cycle to me.


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