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.