When I was in first grade, my friend Norman and I were playing in his wooded back yard. His mother was busy in the house and had left us happily alone. Norman insisted that he knew how to fly. To prove it, he climbed up on their garden shed and jumped off with his arms extended winglike to the sky.
I learned that Norman didn’t know how to fly. His mother learned that he needed to be taken to the doctor to have his broken arm repaired. No one learned that we shouldn’t have been allowed to play alone in the back yard. Why? Because while no one wanted their kids to get hurt playing, most people I knew assumed that all kids get hurt at some time or another. It was, they believed, part of a normal childhood. I didn’t know a child who at some point hadn’t broken a limb, gotten stitches, chipped a tooth, or scarred some part of their body.
I truly appreciate seat belts, bike helmets, polio vaccines, childproof medicine bottle caps, antibiotics and pedestrian activated walk signs. None of these existed in my childhood and grievous harm came to children without these modern inventions. Still, I shudder at the overprotective approach many parents have about their children’s safety. The book I mentioned yesterday, The Coddling of the American Mind, stresses the damage this kind of parenting does to developing children. They come to see the world as a dangerous place, made safe for them by their parents or other adults, with no chance to learn to look out for their own well being. Children become brave by confronting danger. Not life-threatening danger, but run of the mill challenges. They fall and get scraped and get up and try again without their parents standing over them warning them at every turn.