One of the worst things that has been done to children over the past generation or two has been insulating them from anything that could possibly have any danger attached. Parents keeping their children under permanent watch has become “what people do.” And it’s a BIG mistake.
I know why the parents have done this, of course – we live in a fear-based culture, and it has rubbed off on them. But the reason they have caved in to fear is not important – what matters is that they have harmed their children.
Children – at some point in their upbringing – need to confront danger; they need to explore; they need adventures.
At one time, parents knew this. It wasn’t too many years ago when parents let their kids go off into the woods by themselves, with rifles. If that was really so horribly dangerous, half of us wouldn’t be here.
Is it scary to watch your children walk into a subway station? Or out into the woods? You bet it is! But you have to do it anyway. Calculate the risks, pick your times, pick your spots, watch them from a distance if you must, but let them go out and face the world.
Remember, fear is merely an impulse, and it can be based on lies, distortions, or even on nothing at all. It’s a crazy thing on which to base your children’s lives.
A new German study shows clearly that adventure shapes the individual. As one of the researchers concluded, “Living our lives makes us who we are.” Your children need to live, and not merely exist inside of a fear-inspired bubble. The study also indicates that exploration and adventure not only affect personality development, but also brain growth.
I’m not alone in this opinion, of course. Here are two quotes from John Taylor Gatto, a home school advocate and one of the finest teachers of modern times (one of the most awarded too, ironically enough):
Sensible children do not wish to be incomplete human beings. And so, when you impose a stage theory of human development upon them, you are, in effect, tormenting them; you’re limiting their opportunity… Don’t be your kid’s enemy, because that’s not a kid, that’s your fellow human being. Be a partner, and enlarge their opportunities.
The easiest way to turn your kids into geniuses, by the time they’re seven, is just to front-load huge amounts of experience, including dangerous experience.
Like Gatto, I believe that the real dangers for your children lie in government schools, and even in private schools that function on the same model. Here’s what Gatto says on the subject:
Growth and mastery come only to those who vigorously self-direct. Initiating, creating, doing, reflecting, freely associating, enjoying privacy—these are precisely what the structures of schooling are set up to prevent, on one pretext or another.
Yes, I understand that people are pushed, economically, to put their children into public schools. If you feel like you’re in that position, make sure that you tell your children how the system is set up to condition them. Teach them that understanding is far more important than memorizing. Back them up if the teachers give them grief. Let people talk about you.
Your children should understand, very clearly, that teachers and principals are just average people doing particular jobs; that they are merely another neighbor to the people on their street. Some of them are good people, others are bad people, and a title is just a title – it means nothing more.
Teach your children to be bold, let them learn how to fall and rise again. Of course you want to let them encounter dangers slowly, and you’d never put them in positions to get truly hurt, but you should be nothing like the über-parents who surveil their children’s every move, in terror that poor little Johnny will encounter something that hasn’t been sanitized for his protection.
I’ll leave you with one last quote from John Taylor Gatto: something that applies both to schooling and the larger world:
After a long life, and thirty years in the public school trenches, I’ve concluded that genius is as common as dirt. We suppress our genius only because we haven’t yet figured out how to manage a population of educated men and women. The solution, I think, is simple and glorious. Let them manage themselves.
Resist the fear, my friends.
10 thoughts on “Embracing Adventure and Danger”
But, Paul, how can parents take the risk! (sarc) TV and literature have been telling parents for the last umpteen years that every man is a predator! Every stranger is a potential pervert out to get their children! The plan was to make us fear and mistrust one another. Another mission accomplished! Americans CAN NOT trust their neighbors, and are so caught up in their own lives; overworked, overstressed, overexposed to media that they haven’t got the time or the inclination to even try. There isn’t an app for that!
One major problem with freeing our kids to encounter and enjoy life and learn from it is that the state has started weighing in big-time against it.
When my youngest was six, he really wanted to be able to walk to a nearby deli, and order and pay for his favorite sandwich, himself. No biggie. It was a couple of blocks, we didn’t live in a bad neighborhood, he knew the route because we had walked it any number of times together, and he understood the rules about crossing streets and so forth. What could possibly go wrong? I’d sit on the front porch, where I could actually see him for about half the walk and hear him for most of the rest.
Five minutes after he leaves, he arrives home in the back of a police car and I get a lecture on letting my young child wander unsupervised in such dangerous times. The cop got a little irritated when I asked my son if he still had his money, and sent him on his way to get his fucking sandwich. And I suspect most parents would have played along and either accompanied the kid or sent him into the house. I just happen to be the contrarian type 🙂
Wow! Congrats for bucking the fear-mongering cop. And for being the “contrarian type”; God knows society needs more of them!
Actually, that was fairly near the beginning of an odyssey that culminated in our moving halfway across the country, so I suppose they “won.” I still think the town I used to live in should change its name to Pyongyang.
They may have achieved some small victory in driving you out of that town, but as long as your spirit is alive, they have not “won”.
I really, really, really love this article! And for all those people out there who think all this is so dangerous, it is what the author has written that will make children safe. From my own experience growing up, and from looking at the adventuresome life I have as an adult, I thoroughly understand that the best protection for every individual is to be an alert, aware, experienced, practiced adventurer. So many times, the final moment is up to the self, for when “help” will be nowhere around. And that could even be in the schoolyard behind the gym. Kids need to have an idea of how to take care of themselves.
I’m a public school teacher. But I’m handing in my resignation and notice on Monday and will be jobless next month. Like Gatto, I can no longer be part of a system that harms children. There are many events that have led to this decision after eight years working in government school prisons. This part of an email from the department head (with emphasis added) helped me decide to quit: “ALL students in the SAME grade/level need to be doing the SAME thing. For example, ALL 6th grade regular ed students should be doing the SAME work on the SAME schedule, while 6th grade honors students should be doing more difficult work following the SAME schedule as the gen ed kids. Students should be doing the SAME work and learning the SAME skills, regardless of who their teacher is.” The real harm to children is compoulsory schooling that strips away individuality and choice and replaces it with conformity and force. Peace. I’m out.
Our school system is based on the Prussin Military Academy model. Long story short, it brainwashes people to fight in war unquestionably. I recommend “Propoganda” by the sack of crap Edward Bernays on your time off. They really thought we were dumb. Sadly, we are on many levels. Might I recommend a nice boarding or private school to teach at. They always need good teachers and don’t follow the common core bull haha. In one year of private school, I learned more than 12 in public school. It cost more than four years of college if you can believe it but it was hands down the reason I got into college and did exceptionally well.
Wow. That is a disturbing policy. Good for you for getting out of there. Every kid is different and education just cannot be canned and mass-distributed. I can’t even use the same curriculum for my two (both very bright) kids. We’ve always homeschooled our kids (just seemed right for our family), and every time I read a comment like this I’m so thankful we’ve gone that route–and it gives us all more time for adventure. 🙂 Good luck on finding your next job.
Yes, remember the days exploring the hills of West Virginia. The only fear was occasionally running into a copperhead. Spent many days pack packing out for a week at a time.
My grand niece and nephew will never know what they have missed because they live in a city and go out only when accompanied by an adult.
God we were free then.
Very good article —
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