Defending Courage

Two weeks ago as I was driving home, I saw something seemingly innocuous but in reality very disturbing that has stuck with me since. I wasn’t going to write about it but I can’t get it out of my mind and I think it highlights something important in what we’re teaching our kids. Let me first describe what I saw and then I’ll tell you why it so disturbs and even angers me.

I live about a quarter mile from an elementary school. Driving home as parents were picking up their children, I saw two kids, at most maybe five years old, one boy and one girl playing on what passes for monkey bars these days. An anxious father was there holding his arms out under the girl in case she should fall. That’s all and I can’t stop thinking about it.

He’s teaching his daughter to limit her world, to be afraid. He’s teaching her that she can’t get hurt and get up again and conquer. He’s teaching her to not be bold or curious or adventurous, not to push herself to her limits and beyond. He’s teaching her that she needs a man to rely upon in scary situations, that she can’t problem solve, and he’s teaching that boy that the girl is so much more important, that he is expendable in relation to his sister (and if you don’t think that message has a part to play in man on woman violence, think again).

Years ago I read a psych article that posited that by age five a child has learned whether the world is a good place, or whether it is a scary and dangerous place and that whatever message they have internalized is almost impossible to fully unlearn later. The message the father was sending his children is clear and I understand a parent wanting to protect a child from hurt but as hard as it is sometimes those children need to be allowed to fall.

It is not a gift to a child to teach them that their world needs to be limited by fear, that they cannot cope, that stumbling or hurt or injury is the end of the world, a catastrophe from which they cannot possibly hope to have the internal resources to overcome. We do them no favors by instilling not just caution (which would be sensible) but anxiety, fear, and dependence.

Fear should not be what defines a girl or a woman. Fear should not be what defines any human being.

The past two months, I’ve read at least half a dozen articles of parents who had child protective services called because they let their children play unsupervised in their own back yards, let them walk home alone from a local park close to their home, and so on and so forth. Barely a week goes by where I don’t read something similar, parents harassed because they are raising independent children.

The result of this helicopter parenting? We have children who need trigger warnings whenever they encounter an idea with which they disagree. We’re harming our children by stifling and over-protecting them. We’re raising children who lack emotional resiliency (sooner or later we all fail, we all get hurt, we are all confronted by ideas that offend us, we all have to learn to pick up the pieces and get on with things without being utterly crushed when life doesn’t go our way). We’re raising children who can’t handle differing opinions and ideas sanely. We’re raising children who lack the baseline ability to thrive in a diverse and often divisive world. We’re raising children who will be crushed by life. That’s what I fear the most: that in wanting to protect our kids from everything that might ever hurt them (I get that. I don’t have kids but I have a god daughter whom I love dearly, and a pacel of nieces and nephews and I would give my right arm to spare them pain, but when I pray for them, I pray that they be given only the amount of suffering needed to make them capable and compassionate human beings) we are in reality crippling them.

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted on May 1, 2016, in Misc., Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. songofscotland

    I couldn’t agree with this more.

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  2. If the father let her fall, it would be filmed with cellphone cameras, posted on the internet, people would call the police and the father would be arrested for being “negligent”. Parents these days are arrested at the behest of Child Services because they let their kids…PLAY IN THEIR OWN BACKYARDS! *Gasp! Shock! Horror!*

    Society is teaching parents to be afraid of raising their own children.

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    • What you point is the endemic problem with our society. Too much surveillance going on by a nation obsessed with voyeurism and absolute busy bodyness. Thusly, it makes all fearful of the ramifications of such things like a child falling. Indeed, I grasp what the author is conveying, however, unless one is psychic, one can not know the thought processes behind the fathers actions.

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  3. I am a parent and I saw the beginnings of this when mine were babes. Child Services deem what is acceptable for all parents and all children based upon a knee jerk reaction to an extreme circumstance. As society is being dumbed down in general and the higher powers whom govern our society take a stronger hold on our lives, it is going to prove very difficult to buck the system. We need however, to ensure that we teach our children independence, respect and honour in other ways.

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  4. An excellent lesson that teaches us as much about our relationships with children as it does our relationship with our gods. “Let your children fall sometimes. They’ll be stronger for it.”

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  5. I think that while you are quite right about the severe long term consequences of helicopter parenting, you have also read far too much into a single situation. Perhaps the child had been ill and the father knew she didn’t have her full strength or coordination back yet, but wanted to let her try. Perhaps she has some condition which makes even a short fall far more dangerous for her than for her brother. Perhaps he’s living with terrible memories of a previous fall. Perhaps he simply didn’t know what else to do. You have a lot of good insight to the problems we are facing, but you are also very quick to judge and often, as in this case, without all necessary information.

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  6. I think you’re right on with this, Galina. Even if Dagan is right that there’s a good explanation in this one case, I’ve seen too many similar examples like this to be willing to write all of them off as being well-justified.

    I will also note that so much more of this is written into law and policy here in New York state that in places I’ve lived previously. Case in point: one of the rural school districts issued a reminder, at the start of the school year, that if an adult was not present at the bus stop at the end of the day, the child would be taken back to the school. This is also why the bus makes a stop at every individual house, rather than a central point in the neighborhood, from which the children might (gasp!) have to walk more than 10 steps into the waiting SUV which will drive them back up the driveway.

    In other parts of the country (notably Maine, where I still visit loved ones regularly), the dominant attitudes are, instead: stay out of my business, and let’s all be resilient and reasonable. If I ever have children, I will find some way to escape New York before they’re school-age.

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  7. The safer the world has become, the more afraid people are. The more focus they are on the odd report of child danger. Nobody reports that millions of children walked or bused home safely today. Just, oh in podunk place, a child was taken. How many children elsewhere were taken on that day? How many children were taken in podunk the day before or after.

    As for schools, it is a matter of liability and raging parents. It is something of a class issue as well. If you can afford an SUV (which is very unsafe – too ready to tip over), you see danger everywhere outside of your home. Also if a gun shop should open within 5 miles of your school, you must shut it down completely, and harass everyone there. (True story). Why, well we must think of the children. What if a person buys one of the most regulated items to purchase and decides to shoot up the school. I would like to point out that school shootings are more complex than that. Also, the issues are more complex that a gun shop in the neighbourhood.

    The issue also one of control as in I control what my children will do and say. I control the media to insure nothing happens that is bad. Because, I as a parent cannot cope with the sex talk, the gun talk, the fall down and hurt talk, the why is my child crying talk.

    Sorry, I do go on since my son was the one that everyone pointed to as the menace to the neighbourhood. The one to look out for. Guess, the one mother who took it to extremes is also the mother whose son murdered a bystander because they wouldn’t let him in to a party that *he was NOT invited to.* Mine is happily working and paying taxes.

    (I personally think that gun shops and abortion centers should be on every street corner.)

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  8. I am so, SO glad i grew up when I did.

    My folks bought a rural log cabin on the border of NJ/NY, and the region was truly rural. Around the age of eight or nine, I got lost in those woods surrounding our home. (they went three miles back.) I do remember panicking, but then I remember thinking. If I went in circles and saw the same stuff again, I was doing it wrong. I recall sitting and thinking for awhile. Then, the path out came to me… go downhill.

    That’s what I did, and I got home before dinner, and NEVER told my parents about those few hours lost out in the woods. And today it would be even worse — my parents would be visited by various “Services”, and harrassed for being bad parents. No… THEY were great parents and I honor them entirely.

    That experience taught me how to navigate the woods, and I never got lost again.

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  9. As a person who was raised by overprotective parents, I can say with a great deal of certainty that you are absolutely correct. While I respect my parents for wanting to keep me safe, it has taken me quite a while to get over the ingrained anxiety to which that kind of parenting eventually lead. Children absolutely need to be kept safe, but too much of it can be just as dangerous in the long run as not enough in the short term.

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  10. Maybe this is just me speaking as a parent. I see this as sort of the opposite. You can’t just lump it all together in one box because the personality of both the child and the dad need to be taken into consideration here.

    I have a daughter who is fearless. When she was four she climbed up onto all of the high slides and I confess there were times when I was scared to death she was going to fall and break a bone in her leg or something and boy howdy would that be an expensive hospital bill.

    But she got that way because when she first started going to the playground, her father supervised. He was right there waiting for her if something *did* happen, and he explained things like height and falls and stuff as my daughter did them. He never told her ‘no’. Instead when she wanted to do something that looked perilous for a kid at her age, he told her, ‘go ahead and try, I’m here in case you make a mistake’.

    That is incredibly important, and I can’t stress that enough. It’s not about teaching a kid to be weak because they know that there’s going to be someone there to break their fall. It’s about teaching them that mistakes are OKAY, that they DO HAPPEN, and by being there and letting them KNOW that you’re there, you are giving them a means to explore their own limits safely so that as they get older, they DO have that courage; because they realize then two very important things: their physical limits and what they can achieve, and that there may be consequences for testing those limits. . . but that it’s entirely OK to try. Part of being a parent is balancing out when to STOP standing under them and let them get that skinned knee. You can’t protect them from everything. But you CAN help them decide when they’re ready to take away their safety net; especially if you communicate with them.

    And another thing, also. That dad is doing something else amazing; he is giving his little girl a male figure in her life that she recognizes as *SAFE*, as *reliable*. That is so, so important for little girls. She’s seeing her father in a capacity as a guide, and a protector. That’s what a father should be. ‘Friends’ comes later.

    The whole point of being a child and having those experiences *is* that you are learning about the world. . . and you are doing so in a way that (should be) inherently safe. A child SHOULD have someone there to catch them if t hey fall. And if you’re doing it RIGHT, in my opinion, one day your child will be old enough to say, ‘no dad, I don’t think I want you to catch me this time if I do. I want to do it by myself’.

    Just like my daughter, when she turned five, told my husband one day before she went down an especially steep slide and skinned her knee, ‘no dad, I’ll do it myself’. And he didn’t catch her as she flew off, and she got hurt. And you know what? She had tears in her eyes for about thirty seconds. And then she got right back up, marched her little butt right back up that slide, and went down again. This time without the hard landing.

    Kids aren’t stupid. It’s time to stop treating them like they’re second class people. They’ll tell when they’re ready for mom and dad to GTFO of the way. TRUST me. Until then, they know that they got somebody guarding their back, so they can keep their eyes fixed on the future; like a child should.

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