Grace's Mosaic Moments

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Independence - Childhood's Great Loss

Shared on Facebook, source unknown - hopefully it adds a bit of humor to a serious post

Grace Note: The following post is the result of a conversation my daughter and I had as we returned from an outstanding lecture on Communication (interaction with others) by a Brown professor.

Needed:  Room to Roam

A great sickness has come upon the land. One never conceived of when the dream of Suburbia became reality after World War II. (And, yes, even though the words "suburb" and "suburbia" have been around since the fourteenth century, they took on new meaning with the great sprawl of tract housing in the 1950s.) I keep telling myself there must still be small towns somewhere where life hasn't changed much. And I suspect children growing up in the inner city have likely been hedged about by restrictions for centuries, but . . .

Most of us live somewhere in the middle, in small towns grown large or in vast suburban tracts, usually divided into enclaves surrounded by walls and, in many instances, barricaded by gates and/or guardhouses.

A few years ago when I spent a whole day at the FBI's training facility in Quantico, one of the lecturers we were privileged to hear told us that the FBI was having difficulty recruiting agents with "street smarts." I.e., men and women who were accustomed to interacting with the world around them. They attributed this failing to the Computer Age. I suggest that it's more complex than that. That the FBI was beginning to see the result of the first generation of "helicopter" parenting. Of parents who found themselves in a world more inimical than the one they grew up in. Or at least it certainly seems so. But whether this problem is due to better communication, the anonymity of urban sprawl, the increasing lack of moral teaching, or a too liberal justice system is beyond my capacity to judge. It simply is, and we must learn to cope with it without binding our children so tightly to our apron strings that they cannot function on their own.

There is also the problem of parents who have become terrifyingly ambitious, thinking to control every aspect of their children's lives, not only to protect them but to see that they do only the "right" things so they can have the "right" friends, get into the "right" schools, etc. Plus the parents who wallow in the litigious age, ready to take umbrage over anything and everything. Or the ultra liberal parents who think every child should make the sports team, be able to hit the ball, catch the ball, make a home run, or whatever.

For heaven's sake, people, be real! Stop trying to live your children's lives for them and let them learn to do it themselves.

Being careful of your child's welfare is one thing. Pushing this concept to extremes, another thing altogether. A few examples:

I write books. How did I get started? I created my first stories to entertain myself while walking home a mile-plus after school each day when I was seven. I was also allowed out of the house to play in the neighborhood all by myself. That was considered normal. Yes, this freedom can backfire. Reliable weather reports were nonexistent in those days. One day I started home from school, only to discover I was in the midst of a blizzard, with the snow already 8-10" deep. Fortunately, I had to pass the high school where my father was principal and one of the high school boys rescued me, carrying me to my father's office. But no fuss was made about it. This was life. Children learned to be independent, even if meant running into trouble occasionally. 

When my own children were growing up, we lived on Long Island Sound. Did I worry they were going to run into water and drown? I did not. They learned about water from the moment they were born, took swim classes at the Y, and there never was a bit of trouble. (And no, they did not swim unsupervised.) Did I panic about them climbing on the rocks above the water? I did not. That too was part of the adventure of growing up. We lived at the edge of a seaside community, with a woods and large salt marsh between us and the next community. My children and the other children in the neighborhood ran free in this area, crossing the salt marsh to a candy store on the far side of the marsh, placing pennies to be flattened by freight trains bringing trap rock to barges at a dock less than a mile from our home. We were near the Amtrak tracks as well. And again there was the potential for disaster, one I would have spared my daughter if I could. But the only way to do that would have been to tell her she could never leave the yard without me. One day she and a friend were out for a walk with our St. Bernard. They jumped off the Amtrak tracks when they heard a train coming. Our St. Bernard decided she had to defend the girls from this roaring enemy and stood her ground. After thirty-some years It's still a topic we try to avoid, and yet if I had it to do over, I can't imagine denying my children the freedom to roam. And to experience life, even when it turned on them.

But the present generation is being stifled. And, truth to tell, I wish I knew how to change it. How many children do you know who actually walk to and/or from from school? Yet who can blame parents for picking up their children when the news media bombards us with statistics on sexual predators in our neighborhoods? But do we have to carry the school pickup to extremes? For example, every school in Florida has covered outdoor waiting areas to protect children from our hot sun and our frequent rains. And yet, with two steps from shelter to car, a monitor is there with an umbrella for fear the child might experience a drop or two in transit. Worse yet, if there's so much as a distant thunder rumble, children are kept inside until parents come in and sign a release form before taking their child to the car. And if there is active thunder and lightning, the school goes on lockdown while the parents sit in their cars and seethe. Is this what our litigious age has wrought? Or is it simply the ultra-anxiety of outspoken "helicopter" parents, who seem to feed on imagining the worst and think they are "protecting" their children by controlling every aspect of their lives?

Grace note:  if you aren't familiar with the term, "helicopter moms" refers to mothers who hover over their children, scheduling every hour of their days, leaving little room for independence, creativity, making mistakes, etc. 

School is just the tip of the iceberg. That has always been organized - or so we hope. But what about "home" time? Many children are now in "extended day," the after-school activities that look after children in the hours between the close of school and their parents getting out of work. This is a wonderful service, but, still, it's "organized." 

If not in "extended day," children's lives are carefully controlled by arranged "playdates," organized sports activities, dance classes, karate classes organized club meetings, elaborately orchestrated birthday parties, etcetera. By now the message should be pretty clear. Today's children are suffering from:

1.  Loss of Independence
2.  Loss of Initiative
3.  Loss of Creativity
4.  Lack of "Street Smarts" - interaction with outsiders & new situations  
5.  Loss of the Opportunity to Fail
6.  Loss of the Opportunity to Think Their Way Out of Failure or a "Tight" Situation

 I suggest the possible results of the above losses could be:

1.  Lack of a common sense approach to coping with the unexpected or with adversity
2.  A tendency to "follow" instead of "lead"
        or perhaps the opposite . . .
3.  Overreacting to constant control by rebellion of the worst kind

Below is a link my daughter found on the Internet which beautifully illustrates what today's children are missing. Please take a look.

Click here for the problem in a nutshell

What is the solution? Don't I wish I knew! Acknowledging the problem is a start. 

If we can consciously try to find ways to let children have less structure, more time to be themselves, more time to be creative . . . 

If we can do this with minimal risks to safety, instead of citing the most remote dire possibility as an excuse for bringing on the Black Hawks to hover over our children 24/7 . . .

Our goal should be to teach our children how to live in this world, good or bad, not protect them so stringently from life that they have no idea how to get by on their own. We need to give our children the tools to cope with life, not hedge them around so tightly they live in a solitary bubble, turning ever more inward for fulfillment, or busting out of confinement into the underbelly of the world we thought we were "protecting" them from.

Do not rely on schools to build strong minds. Their job is academics. It's your job to teach your child how to cope with the rest of the world. And that's a big challenge. One many of us are failing at the moment. We must not live our children's lives for them! (Shades of bad sportsmanship by parents at Little League games, or the father in the Orlando area who jumped in and finished his son's fight against a 16-year-old!) We must give our children the freedom to find their own way, develop their own thoughts, stand on their own two feet, and be able to face what comes their way.

Parents should not be helicopters - or even umbrellas. Hopefully, we're the founts of wisdom, good moral examples, reliable back-up when absolutely needed, and providers of a nurturing environment. BUT - repeat - it is not our job to function as some giant plastic bubble that shuts out the world, making sure our children have absolutely no opportunity to discover that the world consists of bad as well as good.

Please, find a way to give your child Room to Roam!

~ * ~

Thanks for stopping by. I would really appreciate it if you would pass this post along to every parent and grandparent you know with the request for suggestions on how to solve this modern-day problem.


Next week: Blair's Not-so-Traditional Regency novels

For Grace's website, listing all books as Blair Bancroft, click here.

For a brochure for Grace's editing service, Best Foot Forward, click here. 

1 comment:

  1. Sage wisdom! But it's well beyond parenting, it is the dumbing-down of children by schools, the concepts that made us free aren't studied, patriotic slogans are forbidden and prayers aren't allowed; rather songs are sung praising a would be dictator! Loyalty and common decency are laughed at...and we wonder why we are on the verge of fiscal bankruptcy and moral collapse!