You’ve all seen the memes (I hate that word) that read ‘when I was a kid I played outside until the street lights came on, dug in the mud and played in the woods’ etc etc and such like. Most of us around the 30 mark and above can relate to it and fondly recall our childhood memories of minimal technology and imaginative play.
These days however we live in a much more dangerous world; full of germs and bad people and injuries waiting to happen. As a result of this we cocoon our children in safety and risk assessments, striving to remove such hazards before our children have to even consider encountering them. Modern day children are safe and protected without even having to think for themselves. A click of a button tells you where your child is by tracking their smartphone, a pocket sized bottle of hand sanitiser removes all germs in one foul swoop. A detailed risk assessment that every child caring establishment is required to make covers all the broken branches, steps, trip hazards and possible exits so the children can play safely.
Now don’t get me wrong I totally track my eleven year old daughter’s smartphone when she doesn’t pick up my call after school and I recoil in horror at the thought of any of my children unsupervised in a public toilet (oh my gosh the germs and the other people’s pee and the grossness! I can’t cope). I really appreciate the risk assessments my childcare providers take time to complete so that my partially sighted son only hits his face/head/body a minimal number of times each day. Even so I have to question is it necessary to push our concerns and precautions to such extremes?
We survived didn’t we? I know a couple of my friends broke bones and one or two must have picked up a bug here and there from our outdoor antics but we survived? Quite well might I add! Our experiences surely contributed to the well balanced common sense we all use to make sensible, reasonable decisions when it comes to our own children’s care.
What concerns me is that we are too obsessed in modern times with sheltering our children from the horrors of life that many of them will not grow to have the same standard of common sense as their elders. A friend recently pointed out that we already have a generation of graduates with an inflated opinion of entitlement and deflated ability in common sense. What will this next generation of kids be like? Too scared to experience life in case they catch a cold? Incapable of making decisions that should be second nature to an intelligent species like us?
My husband travelled to Eastern Europe with his band a year or two ago. He was amazed by the low hanging, head height barbed wire and open manholes he saw as he walked around. He asked his guide why there were no signs warning people of the dangers and clearly very little health and safety considerations. The guide’s reply was quite simple; he looked at my husband with some confusion and said “if you’re stupid enough to not look where you’re going and you fall in a hole then it’s your own fault, no one else’s!” This is both obvious and true. In modern society we are all too quick to blame others and immediately stake claims of damages, negligence or fault. Health and safety has definitely reached extremes in our society. Do we want to pass on this mentality to our children? Or would we prefer that they develop to be the intelligent, observant and sensible species that we are designed to be? We are after all the most intelligent species on our planet, right? We are also the only species who requires a sign to tell us the floor may be wet by a water fountain or that there’s a gaping hole in the floor. I mean we obviously wouldn’t see the hole if it wasn’t for the sign so we’d all take no precautions and totally fall in it. We are not using our brains, we are just waiting for someone else to tell us how to do everything. Our children are learning this same behaviour from so young that they accept it without question.
It’s a scary prospect but most of the time if you allow children to have the relevant information they usually make good choices. Granted, once in a while they may choose to play in the rain with no coat or eat chocolate cake for breakfast but what harm would it do, really? They’d soon make a better choice the next time once they are cold and shivering or nauseous and tired from the post chocolate cake sugar crash. They would learn to make the link between a cold, wet day and a warm, dry coat or a delicious piece of toast and jam and not needing a nap by 10am instead of just learning that someone tells them to so they must, without understanding the reasoning.
Then again, what do I know. I played in the mud and the rain, fell off a great many things and tried to eat plasticine as a kid so my brain is probably fried.