Too Little Risk is Risky for Kids

Hi Readers! Over in England, Tim Gill is a big force for rethinking childhood. In fact, that’s the name of his movement sdknzfkrdh
and blog
 — Rethinking Childhood. And as he says on that blog, “…if children are to enjoy and make the most of their lives, we need to revisit and revise our ideas of what a good childhood looks and feels like.”

That’s what he does in this wonderful article he wrote for The Guardian. He says that, finally, his country is starting to realize that trying to give our kids a “zero risk” childhood is an insane idea that, far from helping kids, leaves them unprepared for adult life. How did this mass delusion come about? Gill writes:

In the 1980s and 1990s we collectively fell prey to what I call the zero-risk childhood. Children were seen as irredeemably stupid, as fragile as china plates, and utterly unable to learn from their mistakes. Hence the role of adults was to protect them from all risk, no matter what the cost.

In the past years we have begun to realise the flaws in this zero-risk logic. The constant stream of jaw-dropping anecdotes – children arrested for building a tree house, teachers having to complete reams of paperwork to take classes to the local church, schools banning chase games – has brought home an insight that should have been obvious from our childhoods: children need challenge. They need adventure. They need uncertainty. And they need risk.

Children learn a great deal from their own efforts, and from their mistakes. If we try too hard to keep them safe, we starve them of the very experiences that they need if they are to learn how to deal with the everyday ups and downs of life. What is more, children themselves recognise this.

Couldn’t have said it better myself — especially the sentiment about considering today’s children “irredeemably stupid, as fragile as china plates, and utterly unable to learn from their mistakes.”

I am so tired of us being urged to act as if THIS generation of kids just happens to need more safeguards than any other group of kids the world has ever seen. Glad to hear the winds of change are stirring, at least across the pond. — L.

44 Responses to Too Little Risk is Risky for Kids

  1. Sean July 5, 2011 at 7:31 pm #

    Children learn a great deal from their own efforts, and from their mistakes. – Actually, why is the show smarter than a fifth grader funny? Because 5th graders are taught stuff they will never use the rest of their lives, and hence, will forget it. Ask those same stupid adults what they DO remember from childhood. I guarantee the answer includes a lot of freedom and mistakes and fun.

  2. Dolly July 5, 2011 at 7:41 pm #

    I agree with the sentiment that children need to learn to deal with adversity or they become unable to deal with it as adults. I had a mother that was very accommodating. I was an only child and she babyied me a lot. It did not do me any favors. I baby my boys about certain things too, but I try to keep things real as well for their own benefit.

  3. Selby July 5, 2011 at 8:33 pm #

    It is not that this generation of children needs more protection from hazard. It is that the supervising adults of this generation of children needs more protection from getting their asses sued off when something, anything, happens to the children. Risk has not increased. BLAME has increased.

  4. Tuppence July 5, 2011 at 8:46 pm #

    Yes, yes, yes and yet again, yes. Great article. But can the genie be put back in the bottle? Can we move beyond the, as the writer puts it, “blame culture” and dare we hope a “wholesale rejection of the philosophy of protection” possible? Sometimes I fear the potential money to be made (and by another party,lost) in consequence of modern litigation, means our current predicament has little chance of changing.

  5. Taradlion July 5, 2011 at 9:02 pm #

    Agreed! Risk aversion in so many parents has sky rocked. Increase in blame and all the products and precautions being pushed creates the “it could have been prevented” mentality. Risk can never be entirely eliminated.

    Tolerating some risk for the benefit of experiences and kids attaining real skills and a sense of confidence is so important.

  6. Zozimus July 5, 2011 at 9:11 pm #

    The more we learn about neuroplasticity, the more we recognize that assuming children (or anyone) are incapable of handling change, adversity, challenge, or risk is basically a self-fulfilling prophecy. The brain develops according to it use, and even in adulthood constantly reforms itself according to habits and modes of thought. That’s why pictures of the “teenage brain” are so frustrating to me. In teachers’ college we were told that teens could never pay attention to one thing for longer than ten minutes. Thus, our lesson plans were to skip from topic to topic and never rest for more than the allotted time on any subject. Teaching kids to pay closer attention for longer periods of time (actually the ONLY constant trait among different so-called ‘geniuses’ throughout history) never occurred to them as a laudable goal. My biggest challenge in teaching is convincing parents and administrators that children are NOT hopeless incompetents, and can handle thinking deeply about a single problem for more than a few seconds. The kids themselves are generally surprised when they find out what they were actually capable of, and pleased. Can you imagine if we approached coaching like we do parenting and academics? “The body of the typical teen is awkward and scrawny, and when tested, cannot play sports or lift weights effectively. Therefore, it never will. Don’t force them to train for more than a few minutes at a time; they can’t handle it.” Administrators especially seem prone to this disease. They have read (skimmed) the ‘research’ and determined that kids’ self-esteem is at risk if they attempt something difficult and fail at it. This, combined with an inbred fear of parental squawking, leads them to treat healthy children as if they were socially, mentally, and emotionally deficient, in the name of self-esteem. How would you like being treated like that? We’re creating generations of people who are resentful, frustrated, and have underdeveloped coping skills. But try to explain to these people that THEY are the ones who are impeding kids’ development, and that a challenge – even one that isn’t successfully met on the first try – is actually good for kids, and you get funny looks. Go figure.

  7. Stephanie July 5, 2011 at 9:26 pm #

    @Zozimus – Ugh, seriously? Tell that to my teachers from middle school who could barely get my attention because I was SO ABSORBED in whatever book I was hiding behind my textbook (yes, I was THAT kid). Granted, I wasn’t paying much attention in class because I already knew most of the material and was bored, but I sure had more than a 10-minute attention span when it came to learning on my own terms. And I’d pay attention for more than 10 minutes in class if what we were learning was actually challenging. Teachers lost me when they DIDN’T challenge me and force me to think harder.

    And (I acknowledge I’m probably preaching to the choir here) kids don’t build self-esteem by immediately succeeding on the first try because whatever they attempt isn’t challenging. They build self-esteem by trying, failing, probably failing a few more times, and THEN succeeding. Self-esteem can’t be given, not by parents, not by teachers, not by friends. It has to be earned, or else it’s meaningless.

  8. Myriam July 5, 2011 at 9:27 pm #

    I’ve just been to a playground that had a sign showing a list of rules including “no running”. Obviously no one was taking any notice of it.

    Back to the article. Winds of change stirring, yes hopefully. However, I have to say that I read LOTS of opinion pieces like this, and have been doing so for a couple of years now. In fact, freerange ideas seem very popular with media commentators.
    As the mother of a 9 and 5 year old I can tell you that attitudes “on the ground” (in the UK) are very different and I don’t see much sign of change from where I’m standing.

    There is a faint possibility though that the new government, which seems to be actively trying to distance itself from the excesses of the preceding era with regards to red tape and risk elimination, might contribute slightly to a shift in mood. Maybe.

  9. Let Your Child Fail July 5, 2011 at 9:27 pm #


    I guess we are not alone. I’m so happy to see that helicopter parenting is being slowly chipped away at.

    Tim Gill tells us what children need: They need adventure. They need uncertainty. And they need risk.

    They don’t need us to helicopter. They don’t need us to bubble wrap them. They don’t need us to tie them to our apron strings.

    Now go ahead and let your child fail.

  10. SKL July 5, 2011 at 10:14 pm #

    Kids need certainty: the certainty that when they get home at the end of the day, they will have a parent there telling them to go wash up and get ready for dinner / bed. The certainty that when they get up in the morning, there will be something in the pantry to eat before they venture out. And the certainty that if they go unacceptably over the line, their parent will call them on it and protect them through meaningful discipline – and then send them back out to face the world.

    A kid who has the above is ready to go out and take on risks competently from sunup to sundown.

  11. Sarah July 5, 2011 at 10:41 pm #

    Facebook is more than just an entertainment/networking website for teenagers; parents are utilizing it as well. According to this parent blog, parents are using Facebook to learn more about their child’s friends and other parents.

  12. EricS July 5, 2011 at 10:47 pm #

    @Selby: it’s true the kids aren’t the problem. It’s the parents. As long as children are steered the right way, they will be fine. And it doesn’t take much to guide them. Far, far less work than constantly making sure they are safe. Or should I say parents constantly trying to make themselves feel better about what they are doing. I truly believe it’s all about the parents and very little to do with the children. Yes, more blame, because no one wants to take responsibility for their own actions. And because of more blame, more parents become fearful of being sued. It’s terrible cycle, and the children get caught up in these childish adult games. Parents need to stop be so selfish.

    But, as been said here before, helicopter parents are grooming their kids to be OUR kids’ underlings when they are older. I’ll give them credit for that. lol

  13. EricS July 5, 2011 at 10:57 pm #

    @ Sarah: another tool to encourage helicopter parenting. Why don’t they just do the old styles that people were doing for hundreds of years…invite their friends over. It’s really as easy as removing all technology, media, and remembering how you grew up, now use the same thing in bringing up your child. People rely to heavily on technology and the media to tell them how they should raising their kids. We all have a brain and common sense, why don’t they start using those tools more. Many people will be pleasantly surprised on the outcome.

  14. Dee July 5, 2011 at 11:19 pm #

    “As the mother of a 9 and 5 year old I can tell you that attitudes “on the ground” (in the UK) are very different and I don’t see much sign of change from where I’m standing.”

    I think you have to be one of the on-the-ground parents making changes though. I’ve been allowing my 5-year-old to run around with the older kids without direct supervision this summer (the older kids are mainly 6 and 7 with a couple of 10 year olds occasionally sprinkled in). The problem is that most of the older kids are girls, and he’s wanting a boy to run around with. There is another boy down the block, and on Saturday while I was cleaning the house and he was out running around the backyards with two girls, he came in to complain about it and I said to him, “well, go down to F’s house and ask if he can come out to play!” (F being the only other 5-year-old boy in the neighborhood). Then I remembered that F’s mom is strongly pro-play-date and does not let her kids run about. So, I told him that maybe he shouldn’t do that (because I wasn’t supervising closely enough).

    But I’m still tempted to send him down and have him ask. Maybe it’ll be shocking enough a surprise that F will come out to play.

  15. Mom July 6, 2011 at 1:05 am #

    I don’t know and I don’t get it. My parents divorced in 1997 but I didn’t even know until 2004. They said “We aren’t going to live together for a while” and my mom moved back in w us in 1999 then out again in 2005. I guess they thought I was too fragile to take that news.

  16. Dave July 6, 2011 at 1:24 am #

    A year ago our church brought in a trampoline and a gymnastic program. The treachere, Rudy, believes in kids and their ability to do amazing things if given the chance and alloud to progress at a rate they themselves are comfortable with. I have watched young children do things I would have thought impossible. They jump to high, do all kinds of twists and turns in the air and teach each other what they have learned. The environment is as safe as humanly possible but full of risks. The children who come learn life lessons they will use over and over again. The consider their environment, weigh the risks involved and when ready they take chances and grow. No one is forced just encouraged to face life head on and most of all, in the midst of some risks, to enjoy life.

    Given the chance kids will excell.

  17. anonymous July 6, 2011 at 1:27 am #

    I’ve tried to take a middle road with my kids – protect them (or get them to protect themselves) from the big obvious risks while creating space for them to explore in their own way. Challenge and risk are different things, so it is possible to mitigate the risks (wear a bike helmet, knowing how to ride city streets safely) while taking on challenges (30 mile bike ride). I think this is a good message for kids – yes there is risk, but can you think about it and can you limit it? How can you limit it? And then sending them off for a good challenge. Otherwise, you get kids who assume the world has no risks because those risks are someone else’s problem!

  18. Emiky July 6, 2011 at 3:00 am #

    Fabulous article.

    anonymous… while I agree that we should be smart with our kids and not let them kill themselves, it’s more likely the kids would learn from risks and get a better sense of risk assessment.

  19. Carrie July 6, 2011 at 3:30 am #

    Great post!

    Lately, since I’m pregnant, I’ve been thinking about how our attitudes toward pregnancy and expecting moms have changed as well. It seems like we begin to have this pressure and fanatical obsession with protecting our children – before they’re even born. The list of things pregnant women shouldn’t do and the social pressure to dote on your unborn child is greater than ever. I had the urge to ride my bike up to our farmer’s market (about 2 miles away and there are safe places to ride), but was too afraid of the nasty looks I’d get. At 27 weeks, it’s pretty obvious I’m pregnant. My neighbors thought they saw me on my bike (it wasn’t me – I haven’t ridden in a while) and told my husband to let me know that they can give me a ride somewhere if I need it and to beg me to please not put the baby in jeopardy! I have a car and don’t need rides. I do like to go for a bike ride or *gasp* maybe have a sip or two of wine, or maybe eat my eggs over easy. But the “protect children from their careless/reckless mother” crowd might try to have some sort of intervention. It’s getting insane. What next?! I might fall down the stairs so I should avoid staircases? Or perhaps I should not ride in a car since even wearing a seat belt won’t protect my baby?

    I’m glad to see some common sense over here and hope it catches on!

  20. Stephanie - Home with the Kids July 6, 2011 at 3:31 am #

    I love it. The challenge will definitely be getting parents and the legal system to see that the occasional accident with kids is just an accident, not a case of neglect which needs to be penalized.

  21. Hels July 6, 2011 at 3:40 am #

    When I saw apparently healthy kids as old as six or seven this weekend, unable to go into the bathroom stall by themselves, and boys appearing to be eight or nine brought into the women’s bathroom by their mothers, I just had to ask myself – are the kids imbeciles or the parents neurotics, or the combination of the two. From my own childhood, when we were three or four, those who had to have a teacher’s assistance to use the bathroom were laughed at. How long before learning to use spoons is pushed off until starting grade school?

  22. Selby July 6, 2011 at 3:56 am #

    @Carrie, yet another reason why I am glad to be done with childbearing, it just seems to get more and more overwhelming to be pregnant these days – strictures, dire warnings, don’t eat this, don’t do that, woe to thee if you don’t breastfeed, and if you do, your list of don’ts just doubled. Any time a first time expectant mother asks me for a nugget of advice, I give the same one: avoid parenting magazines like the plague, they will fill you up with needless fear and anxiety and only confuse you.

  23. Juliet Robertson July 6, 2011 at 5:09 am #

    Hats off to Tim Gill for yet another fine article and to you, Lenore, for publicising it! This H&S paper by the Government is a positive step in the right direction and follows on the heels of the expectations of risk benefit assessments and the HSE refusing to be blamed for crass decisions made by organisations and individuals. Yes there’s a lot of work to be done to ensure that our society becomes less risk averse but let’s applaud efforts to do this at all levels.

  24. Kate July 6, 2011 at 5:15 am #

    Carrie: I too am pregnant and am refusing to buy into the nonsense. I’m starting now in not stressing overly about anything I can help. Heaven knows there is enough you can worry about on your own (i.e. finances and so on).

    I started reading one current book about what to do and worry about when pregnant, and got depressed. Now I only read my mom’s old hippie books. They’re great and if you’re going to read anything I say go that direction. They give you advice that will only make you feel good about yourself such as, when flying when pregnant, it’s really best to avoid drinking alcohol.

    Even though I’ve gotten advice that I can drink a glass of wine a week I haven’t, partly because I don’t want to deal with other people, and the “but how will you feel later IFs”. Besides that though, my cravings lean towards a ton of fresh veggies and processed food makes me nauseous, so toss in a prenatal vitamin and I’m refusing to worry any much more than that.

    And yeah, parenting magazines are the devil.

    Back when my mom was pregnant the rules that you shouldn’t smoke while pregnant mystified my grandmother. These days my own mother has been mystified at the ruling that I shouldn’t be eating deli meat or feta. Frankly I’ve decided to ignore a few of these rules already. Now, because no one here is free from judgement, I will add that I haven’t taken my grandmother’s advice and I am NOT smoking. 🙂

  25. Carolyn Jayne July 6, 2011 at 6:14 am #

    Zozimus’ comment about neuroplasticity reminds me of something Carl Sagan said (I think in the book The Demon Haunted World). He talked about giving science classes to first graders, who are typically filled with a natural sense of wonder and delight at all things scientific. Then he talks about giving similar classes to teenagers, who have had all of that joy quashed, or, more likely, trained out of them. That’s probably because we tell kids for years and years that it’s OK if they suck at science and math because they’re “hard” subjects. But they aren’t, not really. Not if we take children seriously and give them the chance to learn, no matter how challenging.

    The topic also, very tangentially, reminds me of an episode of the TV show Luther I was watching recently. For those who don’t know, Luther is one of those horrific, mass-murdering crime dramas where people get mutilated left right and centre. In this particular episode, the baddie had kidnapped a bus full of children, and was in the process of gassing them with the exhaust of his van. One child climbed over the mesh gating and snuck out the passenger door while the baddie was distracted, to a chorus of “no, don’t!” from the other kids. He would have got away, too, if he hadn’t turned back to examine the situation (one hopes, to try and free his friends). Even so, his courage helped to distracted the killer long enough to stop him. Now, I know it’s just a TV show, but I was amazed first and foremost to see a show such as this acknowledge that children are perfectly capable of acting in even the very worst case scenario. The second thing I thought was that I bet the escaping child was never prevented from playing on his own outside because it might be “too dangerous”. Someone would have had to give said fictional kid the confidence and experience to look for a solution. And I, for one, would rather my future kids be the escaping child than the ones chorusing “no, we can’t, we have to stay in the van!”

  26. Uly July 6, 2011 at 6:30 am #

    In this particular episode, the baddie had kidnapped a bus full of children, and was in the process of gassing them with the exhaust of his van.

    WHY? Seriously, who does that? How often can situations like this even come up, actually?

    I love murder shows as much as the next person, but can they at least be semi-plausible? (Or at least funny so you don’t care?)

  27. Decemberbaby July 6, 2011 at 7:23 am #

    @ Carrie: I’m 28 weeks pregnant and I bike our kids everywhere. I’ve had an old lady outside the grocery store lecture me about how I’m putting my kids at risk (“at risk of stupid comments”, I muttered to myself) and most people ask why I’m not worried about falling. Through 2 pregnancies now, I haven’t fallen or otherwise been injured while cycling. I have, however, twisted my ankles on numerous occasions while doing such dangerous things as walking and just standing around.

  28. Cheryl W July 6, 2011 at 8:47 am #

    Mom, I knew that my parents were on the rocks when we came home from vacation and went to my grandparent’s house. When we went home 2 days later there was another woman with my dad. My mom kicked them both out so that my brother and I could start the school year. I was about 7. I think that I would have been confused had my parents did what yours did…

    Pregnancy warnings, heh. With my oldest, now 11, the only protien I could keep down the first 3 months was blue cheese and feta cheese. Meat tasted like s**t to me when pregnant. The next two kids, born over the next two years were after the warning, but I ignored it. Much better to have some food in the stomach than to be puking.

    I certainly let my kids take a bit more risk than my husband does. I recently had to call him a killjoy because he was coaching my very able youngest son through climbing a cherry tree and picking cherries. I ended up climbing up with him, which stopped my husband from expressing his concern. In fact, he did what I do when I feel uncomfortable with the risky things my kids are doing (like taking the wagon down the hill while inside it. I think I have read too many Calvin and Hobbes!) He walked away and didn’t look. We got so many cherries I don’t know what to do with them. (Fruit leather I think – too sweet for jam and everyone is sick of eating them.)

  29. Peggy the Primal Parent July 6, 2011 at 9:10 am #

    Why did this mentality come about in the 1980s? What changed so suddenly after hundreds of thousands of years of raising kids?

  30. Carolyn Jayne July 6, 2011 at 10:49 am #

    @Uly: Actually, oddly (and horrifically) enough, the kidnapping of a bus full of children thing actually did happen — though they were left in a metal box in a ditch for a few days, rather than gassed. This was in California I think. I’m not going to pretend the rest of the storyline wasn’t completely implausible, though (in the next episode the bad guy based his decisions on the role of a dice) — I watch for the characters, actors, and style rather than the plot. I almost think I’d rather they be totally implausible, actually, in the same way that I’d rather watch a silly ghost movie than a “true story of a serial kiler” movie, because then I can dismiss it as rubbish and not be afraid of my own shadow all night. I did think it was interesting, though, that such an over-the-top show acknowledged that at least some children are competent human beings.

  31. FrancesfromCanada July 6, 2011 at 12:42 pm #

    Just for the record — feta and blue cheese are fine in pregnancy, as long as they are pasteurized. The risk in unpasteurized dairy and deli meat is listeria. It causes stillbirth and can kill immunocompromised or elderly people. Perhaps the US didn’t hear about the big Canadian recall of Maple Leaf meats a couple of years ago for listeria contamination — people died. Granted, most of the time the risk of contracting listeria is low, but that’s a pretty high consequence, and there are other things to eat.

    There are government publications in both countries that outline the real risks well without all the fear-mongering. Pregnancy isn’t an illness but it doesn’t hurt to be smart about it. Fortunately the real list of “don’ts” is pretty short. And it’s actually shorter for nursing, which I just spent three years doing. I followed the rules, and believe me, I’m no martyr.

    Completely agree that kids need challenges and need to be free to learn for themselves. But I’m also with @ anonymous, above: I can’t see any reason not to reduce unnecessary risks through the use of, say, helmets or safety-compliant play structures (the boring ones are badly designed, it’s not the guidelines making them that way) including fall-safe playground surfaces. Kids can learn just as much falling into pea gravel — which still hurts — as they ever did breaking their arms on packed dirt. Or, say, PFDs, anyone? Prepared to stop using those so your kid can learn about drowning the hard way?

    There’s a difference between wrapping kids in cotton wool and being sensible. The school of hard knocks is not the only place to develop some common sense.

  32. LRH July 6, 2011 at 1:10 pm #

    I am glad to hear of this guy. Maybe the UK’s answer to Lenore Skenazy? Maybe the two of them (Lenore and this guy) can join forces in someway in the future.

    Peggy the Primal Parent My point exactly. Among many other examples, people seem to think as if streets that were safe in 1979 suddenly became like a NASCAR race track in 1980, as if cars that could go high speeds & hurt what they strike suddenly appeared as if by magic starting in 1980. What else to explain how my mother used to let me ride my plastic tricycle (a “Big Wheel”) on a 55mph road (albeit one which would only have a car per minute or so) whereas I’ve seen people freak out “GET OUT OF THE STREET!!” on private dirt paths.

    So nice to read about this as opposed to “that story” that the news just won’t leave alone–it so disgusts me I refuse to even say what it is, other than it’s as bad as the over-hyping of Jon Benet Ramsey & Laci Peterson before.


  33. LRH July 6, 2011 at 1:19 pm #

    Oh and FrancesfromCanada–for the record, my kids are 2 & 4, and I don’t normally use personal flotation devices (PFD’s), although some have advised that I do so & I don’t think it’s a bad idea. We do have life jackets, but when I take my kids to the lake myself (vs my wife with me), I tend to not remember them–and I do see other parents who let their kids run “bare” that way as well at the lakes etc.

    I get the point of those who advise me to use them, they may have a point & I don’t argue with my wife when she has any kids in our care (ours or the nephews etc) use them, but I tend to be one that thinks of a child having to wear lifejackets on the shore while enjoying the water to be somewhat beside the point, much as motorcycle riders say having to wear a helmet sort of beats the point & takes all of the fun out of it. I think you could go either way–I swing on the side of “fun,” my wife swings more on the side of “safety”–and I’m fine by that. (We usually are the same with practically everything else.)

    I’d hardly be inclined to believe I’m a reckless parent because of this.


  34. Taradlion July 6, 2011 at 7:42 pm #

    A few posts back (Made Me Think), I commented this, but it seems to fit here too:

    Risk elimination is impossible. Risk reduction can be done externally (seat belts, bike helmets, swim flotation devices, baby gates, door locks, purell, toilet locks, and the list goes on) or internally (learning to float and swim, learning traffic laws, learning not to go off with strangers, and the list goes on).

    External risk reduction that impedes children learning actual skills (like swimming) are short term fixes. External risk reduction tools that do not impede learning (such as bike helmets) are good. Of course special circumstances (sleep walking, disability, multiples/closely spaced siblings, even personality for some kids or parents) MAY make external risk reduction tools necessary sometimes.

    Some parents do depend on external risk reduction when the child is or could be capable.

    I work with children with disabilities. Making modifications to help children reach their full potential is part of my job. Lack of ability due to inability, and lack of ability because of lack of experience, are two very different things.

    ****Even though I have a personal pet peeve about “floaties” and even approved PFD being OVER used in pools and ponds for swimming/water play (I commented on the same post about this). I am all for life jackets/life vests when boating. In that case, PFD are an external risk reduction that does not impede kids learning to boat and encourages, smart safety.

  35. Tim Gill July 6, 2011 at 8:51 pm #

    Thanks so much for this Lenore – great to see how our work on either side of the Atlantic is coming together. One initial response to some of the comments above: risk aversion cannot be laid solely at the door of parents. Here in the UK, one couple wanted to let their kids cycle to school. The school threatened to report them to social services. Lenore’s blog has many similar examples too. So let’s challenge risk averse institutions wherever they rear their heads.

  36. Val Joiner July 6, 2011 at 10:42 pm #

    You need to have a FRK shirt made…”Free-Range Kids: Because they’re not irredeemably stupid” Great to read this post today along with this related post over at Science-Based Parenting.

  37. ebohlman July 6, 2011 at 10:52 pm #

    Peggy: I think a whole lot of circumstances came together. First, it’s generally accepted that parenting trends tend to start among the affluent and then eventually “filter down” to the middle-class and poor (thus class-based differences in parenting style usually represent out-of-phase trends rather than permanent class-based traits). This means that parenting trends that began with the yuppies of the 1980s have now spread to the general population. This has been accellerated by the fact that yuppies are and were a highly desirable media demographic, so parenting books and TV shows about parenting have tended to promote yuppie ideals of parenting (and, especially, pregnancy).

    Around the same time, we saw the advent of the 24-hour news cycle, along with changes in the media’s internal business models (specifically, treating news divisions as if they were separate companies that had to be profitable on their own). This led to increasing sensationalism.

    Another thing the media did was increasingly turn to therapists as experts in how to raise children. This led to an emphasis on worst-case thinking and a tendency to pathologize normal phenomena.

    Then there was the fact that the first baby boomers started having their first kids around the time, so we had a lot more new parents around. And because of increases in mobility, these new parents had less access to extended family members to turn to for advice and shared experience, so they were more influenced by the media.

    At the same time, the economic stimulus of WWII had finally worn off, and the US no longer enjoyed the distinction of being one of the few developed countries whose economic infrastructure didn’t have to be rebuilt after the war. This led to lots of anxieties about the future; it was the first time in quite a while when the prospect of kids ending up economically worse off than their parents loomed its ugly head. And this created a sort of free-floating anxiety that got transferred to a lot of mundane things.

    I’ve just barely scratched the surface here.

  38. Jen Connelly July 7, 2011 at 1:41 am #

    I’ve been saying something similar for years (more like muttering under my breath). Are kids today really that much more stupid and incapable as a generation or two ago? Because the media and the helicopter crowd sure seems to push that belief.

    When I mention my kids stay home by themselves I get the, “but they’re too young (at 11, 9 1/2 and 8 1/2), what if something happens?” What’s going to happen? They’re going to sit around and watch TV and sneak gogurts from the fridge.

    I started staying home alone at 8 with my 6yo brother. All we ever did was watch TV and sneak cookies.

    Our next step in the free-range world is letting them venture outside our neighborhood (our loops–our street is a loop that comes off of another loop and so far they have to stick to that area–any street that comes off of the main loop). We were out the other day and my kids couldn’t find their way home because none of them paid attention to where they were going since I was there to just tell them. Unacceptable. I’m thinking the best way for them to learn is to just go explore. When kids are on their own without mom and dad to back them up they tend to pay better attention to where they are going so they can find their way back. I’ve definitely been slacking in this area.

    When I was a kid we learned a lot of this stuff from other kids and from experience. They were called “street smarts” back then. Common sense stuff you picked up as you learned about your environment. I noticed that other kids today don’t have any concept of street smarts other than looking both way before crossing a street (but only if mommy is holding your hand) and even then they don’t really have to use it because Mommy is usually standing at the curb to cross you just in case.

  39. FrancesfromCanada July 7, 2011 at 12:30 pm #

    @LRH and @Taradlion: I should have clarified. I meant PFDs while boating…hadn’t even dawned on me to use them on the beach.

  40. walkamungus July 8, 2011 at 2:14 am #

    Don’t miss the Atlantic Monthly cover story for July: “How to Land Your Kid in Therapy.” Excellent read!

  41. Marilyn Schuette July 8, 2011 at 8:38 pm #

    I think kids wearing helmets every time they ride a bike or a tricycle is a bit much. No one ever got a concussion when I or my kids rode a bike. That is another way of the zero risk situation. Kids don’t want to ride bikes any more. Too bad no exercise!

  42. Carlo July 9, 2011 at 1:18 am #

    I am one with you in that kids today have so many restrictions. It’s not good for them at all, and kills their potential to be excellent adults. It’s a lot worse here in the Philippines, where many of the more affluent households have maids and servants who do EVERYTHING for the child. It’s sad.

  43. Leslie Galloway July 29, 2011 at 2:54 pm #

    I completely agree with the idea that kids can handle tough situations when needed. Last spring I was in the backyard with my two kiddos, and I needed something from inside. The back door was locked so I went around front. As I was coming back down the front steps, I twisted and actually broke my ankle. I couldn’t get up, so I called out to my three-year-old daughter. She saw my tears and realized she had to help. I asked her to go get her brother from the backyard. He was only 1 at the time. Then she went in the house and got my phone so I could call my husband at work. While I was on the phone she went next door to ask a neighbor for help. This was her own idea. And it was great. The neighbor brought me an ice pack and sat with us until my husband arrived. My daughter is now 5, and still swells with pride when she tells the story.


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