When I was in elementary school, my childhood friend and I became fascinated with paper guns. We rolled up pieces of paper and taped the edges together to form hollow cylinders, which in our minds were gun barrels. We performed a similar procedure to craft the gun handles, taping them to the barrels. For the ammunition, we crumpled up tiny paper balls for bullets. Then we would shoot them at each other by quickly blowing air through the opposite end of the paper gun barrel.
We got pretty good at making paper guns. It was a blast. It was so much in fact that the rest of my grade-school class started imitating us, making their own paper guns and shooting little paper bullets back and forth at each other during indoor recess. That is, until one day when we were both marched down to the principal’s office. We were told we made a “bonehead move” and that we weren’t allowed to craft any more paper guns in the classroom.
I was the chief architect behind the “chaos” in the classroom and quite satisfied that the other children had taken to my game. I felt accomplished. But when I sat in the chair in the principal’s office, I felt ashamed. I wasn’t sure exactly what I had done wrong, but a bunch of authoritative-sounding adults decided it was wrong. I now realize that the adults were making a big deal out of what was actually normal childhood play.
The Swine Flu
On a different day, I was outside on the playground. Some other student had come up with a pandemic-like game similar to tag. It started with one “infected” person. That person tagged someone else who then became infected. So on and so forth until everyone was infected, and then we restarted. It was a fun twist on the game of tag and unlike tag, it had a definite ending. Given the timing, I think the disease was supposed to be swine flu since that was happening at around the same time I was in grade school.
The playground monitor who watched over us, a woman probably between the ages of thirty and fifty at the time, told us that the swine flu game was no longer allowed. I never learned why not. It didn’t make sense to me as a kid. It was just a modified game of tag where we simulated a pandemic that was already of concern anyways.
I now suspect that, if pressed, the playground monitor would have said something to the effect of “that game isn’t appropriate”, because people were getting sick from the swine flu. But what does “inappropriate” even mean? We were kids with no bad intentions and it was a fun game. I suspect if we called it something different, the monitor wouldn’t have had a problem with the game. Looking back, it still makes no sense to me why that game was canceled for us.
I have yet another similar story. Some kids get into comics, Harry Potter, Pokemon, or Yu-Gi-Oh!. For me it was Dragon Ball Z. I liked watching Dragon Ball Z. I had the well-taken-care-of action figures. I had the video games. I watched the new episodes on television when they came on. I loved it.
One day on the playground at recess, I learned a few other kids were into it as well. So naturally, we picked our characters and started fighting. We weren’t even hitting each other. We were sticking our hands out with open palms going “Kamehameha!”, Goku’s signature technique. I pretended to be the feared, ruthless galactic emperor Frieza, and the others holding me in place were pretending to be the good guys. We were all having fun until, again, the playground monitor shut us down and told us we were being too rough, even though no one was hurt.
The Culture Problem
As time went on and I grew up, I realized more and more that those childhood experiences of mine weren’t merely the product of a few overprotective adults. We in the first world have developed a culture problem. Despite the world being as safe as it has ever been for children, there’s this unfounded paranoia parents now have about leaving their children alone for even a second or letting them do anything with the slightest hint of risk. As you see in the case of the paper guns or the swine flu, it doesn’t really even have to be remotely risky. It just has to be distantly related to something that is. This is harming both parents and children.
Children are more resilient than they get credit for. They’re not nearly as fragile as modern parents make them out to be. They don’t need constant supervision. But it’s not just the parents’ faults. Through my experience working with children, I was pressured to coddle the children, to not let them do anything remotely risky. It wasn’t good for me and it wasn’t good for them. Instead of allowing children to work out conflicts on their own, I was expected to constantly interfere, under the threat of losing my job. They never learned conflict resolution and I was always exhausted.
This is all in stark contrast to how our grandparents were raised. They weren’t babied. They were allowed to be free and independent and have real childhoods without child protective services being called. In the span of a few decades, we’ve went from allowing children to play freely to coddling them to the point that they learn none of the skills they need to be functional adults.
A while back, I found an organization that’s working to fight against these absolutely stupid trends robbing children and parents of the lives they deserve. It’s called Let Grow. They have a lot of good information on their website, such as recommended books on the subject, research, advocacy to change the laws surrounding child abuse and neglect, and educational resources for schools and communities.
I’ve read through some of Let Grow’s stuff and I think their work is vital to solving this problem. I think the problem is real and quite serious. We have to give children their independence back. I’m not saying how children were raised in the old days was perfect. I don’t want to idealize the old days, but in terms of childhood independence, it was better. So I just want to promote Let Grow and make everyone aware that there is a movement against this overprotective parenting. For more information about Let Grow, check out their website.
False Examples of Overprotective Parenting
Now to play devil’s advocate for a moment, I want to consider two things people point to as evidence of overprotective parenting which I don’t agree with.
Young Adults Not Moving Out
One, young adults are moving out at later ages than they used to, sometimes not at all. I think that’s mostly caused by us being broke and not wanting to be wage slaves, not coddling. Conservative media tries to say all us young people are just lazy and irresponsible, but that’s bullshit. Most of our grandparents were more economically independent because they could get decent jobs straight out of high school, not because they were more hardworking.
The Decrease In Spanking
Not spanking your children is another false example of coddling. Choosing not to hit your child is not coddling them. “Spare the rod, spoil the child” is bad parenting advice. I don’t understand why people think it’s okay to hit children. If you hit an adult, that’s assault and you can go to jail for it, but if you hit a much smaller, less mentally developed human, then that’s just discipline? Doesn’t make sense to me. Unlike giving your child independence, spanking is associated with negative psychological outcomes.
Let Grow should be about children gaining more independence and parents and educators being free to give them that independence. It shouldn’t be about parents having the right to spank their kids. As I said before, parenting from the old days wasn’t ideal either. More parents and teachers spanked children and that was wrong. Just because we went too far overprotecting children doesn’t mean we should go back to hitting as a form of discipline.
Based on what I’ve seen of Let Grow, they’re doing a good job promoting childhood independence and I think they should stick to that. More childhood independence seems to be a very widely supported goal which shouldn’t be diluted by taking public positions on the work ethic of millennials or the ethics of spanking.
If you have extra money, please send a donation to Let Grow to help end helicopter parenting, restore childhood independence, and make parenting more bearable again. Thanks.
1: 2009 Swine Flu Pandemic
2: Let Grow
3: Let Grow - Books
4: Let Grow - Research
5: Let Grow - Legislative Toolkit
6: Let Grow - Educational Resources
7: Let Grow - Donate