As you may have heard, “Old Enough” is the Japanese reality show now on Netflix showing kids age age 5, 4, 3 and even 2 running errands on their own.
It’s a bit extreme (2-year-olds shopping?) but also extremely lovable. The kids are sometimes a little scared or sad, but they are also incredibly determined. As I wrote over at Reason.com, we see one girl, age 4, tasked with fetching a cabbage by herself:
Her mom has left one for her in the barn, but the girl assumes she must pull one from the patch. Cabbages grow on stalks thicker than broom handles. The girl pulls and pulls. No luck. So eventually she grabs the cabbage and starts twisting it like the steering wheel of a bus.
She does this for half an hour.
Contrast this with the outlook on our shores, where the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends not letting kids crossing the street on their own before age 10. Why not?
“Normal developmental characteristics, such as magical thinking, egocentricity, distractibility, and impulsivity, increase pedestrian risk for children.”
This way of thinking is not reality-based, it is cultural. After all, in Japan they are convinced that normal developmental characteristics include bravery, perseverance and the ability to problem-solve.
Our doomy/gloomy culture sees kids only through the lens of deficits and peril. But as I said on The Today Show (which gave me about 7 seconds to discuss “Old Enough”):
“If you’re telling kids that…they’re incompetent, they’re in danger, that they need us all the time — that might explain why kids are so anxious and depressed.”
The forces keeping kids overprotected and underestimated are many, from a media in love with disaster to a legal system unable to staunch crazy lawsuits, like the parents who sued a school district because their child fell off a slide and broke her arm. (They won $170,000.) Now schools and park districts have to worry that any kid hurting themselves any which way could be a legal and financial nightmare.
And then, as I told The New York Times — at least folks are figuring out who to interview about these things — there are also America’s open-ended neglect laws to contend with. These leave parents AND child protective agencies unsure of when it’s okay to take your eyes off your kid. (See this Let Grow post about a 6-year-old who just testified in favor of a Free-Range Kids law in South Carolina by pointing out that she is perfectly capable of climbing trees, playing outside and exploring her neighborhood without adult supervision. Imagine that! If you’d like to work on changing your state’s neglect laws by joining our legal advocacy, click here.)
So thank God, and Netflix, and Japan, for “Old Enough!” It is proof positive of just how competent kids can be WHEN WE LET THEM.
Time for America to let the kids here wow us, too.