Overprotecting our Youth Today Limits Their Future Tomorrow

By Jason Menard

I worry, what’s going to happen to today’s children when we remove the protective bubble wrap and force them to head out into that big, bad, dangerous world all by their lonesome?

Sometimes too much knowledge can be dangerous. Many parents, who are regaled with new and potentially explosive news about the latest threats to their children, live in fear of letting their kids do the one thing they do best – be kids.

Kids are supposed to get dirty, they’re supposed to take a few chances in their life – that’s how they learn. As sensitive parents, we understand that we’re supposed to forgive our children’s mistakes and encourage them to use them as a learning tool. But how are they supposed to make mistakes when today’s society doesn’t even encourage them to go out and test the waters.

I feel my parents did a good job, overall. I’m still here, in general good health, and I take an active interest in the world around me. And, while they were aware of where I was in my youth, I remember spending all day riding my bike around the neighbourhood or playing in the park, no matter what the temperature. Rain, sun, heat, cold – we were out there enjoying life to its fullest – and we weren’t restricted to a 50-foot radius around our front porch.

Now, I don’t want to come across as an old fogey harping on about the Good Ol’ Days, but more and more today’s kids are being restricted in what they can do, what they can experience, and where they can go. Our societal fears are overwhelming our desire to watch our children live, thrive, and survive on their own.

On an average day, my wife and I will send our son out to play, only to have him come back shortly thereafter saying that none of his friends will come out, because it’s too hot (we’re talking mid-20s here, not fry-an-egg-hot summer days) – they’d rather stay inside and play video games. Looking back on my youth, heat was never a consideration – and the concept of dehydration was never even brought up. You played until you were ready to drop, came home, ate lunch or dinner, and then headed outdoors again.

Parents are dousing their kids in waterless antibacterial cleaners, because – God forbid – they come in contact with a germ. But what will the long-term ramifications of this desire to protect our children from disease be? Will we create a generation of kids who are in danger of being felled by the common cold because they’ve not developed a normal immunity, like the rest of us?

Even a recent trip to an amusement park indicates how protective we’ve become. Rides, which once sufficed with a lap bar or a shoulder restraint now feature intricate protection devices, double-belts, and the like. Signs for rides indicated so many exclusions, that only Olympic athletes appear to qualify to get on board.

Gone are the days where kids would get on their bikes and ride. Gone are the days when a forest was a place to explore with friends. Gone are the days when time could be wasted, pleasurably. Gone are the days when kids could get dirty all in the name of exploration, discovery, and fun. What those days have been replaced with

We live in a society built on fear – fear of litigation, fear of our children hurting themselves, fear of our children being abducted – and that fear has clouded our parental instincts to the point where we’re suffocating our kids’ abilities to experience the world in the same way we have.

Parents often issue the similar refrain that today’s world is different, which is true. But what’s more true is that today’s parent has changed. The available world around us has expanded to the point where its farthest reaches are within the click of a mouse, yet we’ve done our utmost to confine our kids’ world to their immediate surroundings.

Once, in my youth, I decided to take a running leap at the tree in our front yard, which featured parallel branches. Thinking I could make like an Olympic gymnast I leapt for the first branch, only to miss spectacularly. Lying in a crumpled heap, the wind knocked out of me and my head ringing, I learned a valuable lesson about risk management that I have applied to my every day life since.

And that’s the whole point. Our childhood follies and experiences teach us lessons for the long-run. We learn what to touch and what not to touch. We learn how to look before we leap. And, most importantly, we learn how to make our own way through this big, exciting – and sometimes scary – world.

By over-protecting our kids, we’re ensuring that they’ll make it to their future without a scratch – but are we not restricting the future they have by robbing them of the ability to experience life first hand? When we’ve finished holding their hands through their youth and keeping them at arm’s length, where will they go? What will they do? An animal raised in captivity often times is unable to be released into the wild because they don’t have basic survival skills. Are we doing anything different to our children by holding on so tight?

We need to give our kids the same gift our parents gave to us – the gift of a childhood. And if my son or daughter come home with a cut on the leg or a bout of Poison Ivy, then my wife and I will take care of them, and take comfort in the idea that each experience will add one more lesson learned to their youthful experience.

And it’s one more lesson that they can take with them when they step out on their own into that big world that’s full of the unknown, full of fear, but also full of beauty, excitement, and potential.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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