Wrapped in Cotton Wool

As a parent, it’s a fine line we walk sometimes in knowing where the boundaries are for your kids. We want to protect them from danger and shield them from hurt. At the same time, we need to allow them to experience the world and learn to interact with it in meaningful ways. This paradox of safety versus experience is a tricky balance to get right, but I’m convinced that we are probably the most overprotective generation of parents in history. A recent post here listed a number of tongue-in-cheek example of how much we seem to overreact to things that would have been much less of a drama a few years ago. How many of you went out playing all day when you were a kid, and the only rule was to be home by dark? No “Call me when you get there to let me know you arrived ok”… just “Bye dear, have fun playing!”

This video from the TED Talks series, called “5 Dangerous Things you should let your Children do” makes a similar observation that maybe we need to just lighten up a bit on our kids. Take a look…

In our schools I find we are developing the same, if not worse, overprotective behaviours. My last school insisted on having staff members walking the children across the road after school (it’s a high school!) – I found this laughable… we have them in class all day teaching them to be mature and independent thinkers and then we won’t let them cross a street without assistance. Our excursion (field trip) program became impossibly hard to work with over the past few years due to all the excessive safety regulations and the need to “guarantee” a safe environment outside the school. You can never get a total guarantee that a situation will be 100% safe – of course you want it to be as safe as possible – but when you start to compromise the creation of situations and environments in which to learn because there may be a small risk involved… I don’t know, that just seems silly to me. Life has sharp edges. Deal with it.

No one wants to see children get hurt, that’s for certain. Regardless of whether your role is that of teacher or parent, I’m sure we all want to see our children stay safe. My own daughter was bitten on the face by a dog a few years ago and the feeling of sheer panic and distress I felt as a parent as I looked down as the blood streaming out of the huge gash torn in her cheek was an indescribable anguish. But would I say to her to now stay away from all dogs? No way. She loves dogs. She’s fallen off a bike and skinned her leg a few times, but that doesn’t mean she should never ride a bike again. In the process of living, sometimes you’ll get a bit knocked around. That, quite literally, is life.

Kids – just like adults – need to occasionally go through some of the painful parts of life if they are to experience the wonder of what it means to live.

School 1977 vs. School 2007

A friend sent me one of these silly emails, but this one actually made me laugh. It’s unnervingly close to the truth! Here goes…

Scenario: Jack goes quail hunting before school, pulls into school parking lot with shotgun in gun rack.
1977 – Vice principal comes over, looks at Jack’s shotgun, goes to his car and gets his own shotgun to show Jack.
2007 – School goes into lockdown, the RCMP are called, Jack is hauled off to jail and never sees his truck or gun again. Counselors are called in to assist traumatized students and teachers.

Scenario: Johnny and Mark get into a fistfight after school.
1977 – Crowd gathers. Mark wins. Johnny and Mark shake hands and end up buddies.
2007 – Police are called, SWAT team arrives and arrests Johnny and Mark. They are charged with assault and both are expelled even though Johnny started it.

Scenario: Jeffrey won’t sit still in class, disrupts other students.
1977 – Jeffrey is sent to the principal’s office and given a good paddling. Returns to class, sits still and does not disrupt class again.
2007 – Jeffrey is given huge doses of Ritalin. Becomes a zombie. Tested for ADD. School gets extra provincial funding because Jeffrey has a disability.

Scenario: Billy breaks a window in his neighbour’s car and his Dad gives him a whipping with his belt.
1977 – Billy is more careful next time, grows up normal, goes to college, and becomes a successful businessman.
2007 – Billy’s dad is arrested for child abuse. Billy is removed to foster care and joins a gang. State psychologist tells Billy’s sister that she remembers being abused herself and their dad goes to prison. Billy’s mom has an affair with the psychologist.

Scenario: Mark gets a headache and takes some Aspirin to school.
1977 – Mark shares Aspirin with the school principal out on the smoking dock.
2007 – Police are called and Mark is expelled from school for drug violations. His car is searched for drugs and weapons.

Scenario: Pedro fails high-school English.
1977 – Pedro goes to summer school, passes English, goes to college.
2007 – Pedro’s cause is taken up by local human rights group. Newspaper articles appear nationally explaining that making English a requirement for graduation is racist. Canadian Civil Liberties Association files class action lawsuit against provincial school system and Pedro’s English teacher. English is banned from core curriculum. Pedro is given his diploma anyway but ends up mowing lawns for a living because he cannot speak English.

Scenario: Johnny takes apart leftover Canada Day firecrackers, puts them in a model airplane paint bottle and blows up an anthill.
1977 – Ants die.
2007 – Canadian Firearms Centre and the RCMP are called and Johnny is charged with domestic terrorism. CSIS investigates parents, siblings are removed from the home, computers are confiscated, and Johnny’s dad goes on a terror watch list and is never allowed to fly again.

Scenario: Johnny falls during recess and scrapes his knee. His teacher, Mary, finds him crying, and gives him a hug to comfort him.
1977 – Johnny soon feels better and goes back to playing.
2007 – Mary is accused of being a sexual predator and loses her job. She faces three years in federal prison. Johnny undergoes five years of therapy.