I recently read this article via reason.com:

The Fragile Generation

The content is important and should get everyone’s wheels turning–we need to get back to our roots with kids, as far as how we raise and educate them.  And by educate, I not only mean in the cognitive sense, but also, educating our kids as to how they keep themselves safe on their own, without a watchful eye reminding them or taking things away–so they can fully live their lives.

In this article, there are countless examples of how life as a child and as a parent have transformed completely from when we were kids and our parents were young adults.  Yes, the world has changed, as it will continue to do–some say it’s less safe and others say there is more communication to broadcast every event, large or small, creating a sense that things are unsafer than they actually are.  But, the way we see children, safety and growth must really be examined, since perhaps, the shifts regarding these things have not changed for the better, especially when we consider we are raising the next generation of adults.

I think we can all recall playing as children, for hours on end, without an adult in sight.  There were rarely referees to intervene if something seemed unsafe, someone wasn’t sharing or following the rules of the game or telling us how to play with an object.  We were the decision makers when it came to our play.  If we wanted to play with the box for our toys there weren’t always people around to tell us that “it wasn’t the toy” or that it wasn’t safe to play with for whatever reason.  Now, I’ve witnessed countless adults tell children to play with the toy, versus the box–either because the box had “sharp edges” or could hurt the child or because it didn’t seem productive or like the child was doing what he or she was “supposed to be doing.”  Pun intended here–we need to start thinking outside of the box and recall our own childhood experiences.  We really need to consider how the box (or any other object that we deem “unsafe”, with respect for the obvious, of course) could in fact be unsafe for the child.  Further, we need to examine everything the child can gain from working, aka playing, with objects like boxes or blank sheets of paper or something the child isn’t using for its intended purpose.  I have not only witnessed this but have also experienced this–playing with the box will in fact lend itself to kids thinking outside of the box and gaining a better understanding of themselves and the world around them.

Yes, children need to understand boundaries and limits and keeping themselves safe.  They also need to grasp social cues, being a part of a community, working together, cooperation, using instructions to work on something and see it through (maybe–I’m still someone who will tinker until I can figure out how to do something instead of looking at the instructions, but sometimes there is a need to read the steps).  So, these skills are important–not every second of every day necessarily needs to be totally free and unstructured.  However, I think a large percentage of it does.

I think we teach kids character, morals, and different ways to look at the world by example, so we must make the time we are with them meaningful and intentional.  We must respectfully interact with them as people–not as people that do not know as much as we adults do, including when it comes to keeping themselves safe.  We really need to consider our own need for control–is there really a need to be in charge of directing their every move and thought?  Is that helpful to their development?  Is it keeping them safer than if we were to let them have the freedom to do things on their own?

We must show them what we can do with our hearts, minds and hands and include them in real life processes.  And then, perhaps most importantly, we need to let them be to do it on their own.  Sure, they will most certainly fail or fall.  And of course no one wants that–no one wants to see another human in physical or emotional pain or suffering.  However, when a child fails or falls during play or a learning process, 9 times out of 10, they will pick themselves up and get going again, without flinching.  They are more motivated to continue the play and continue to learn than they are to stop and focus on a scrape or bruise.  And, if one of those things does stop them, as they work through processing how they became injured–physically or emotionally–they will begin to learn what to do and what not to do to keep themselves safe.

If we really think about our own childhood, the freedoms we had to fail and to fall and how we responded to those experiences, the content of the above article and how kids are raised today, I think we really need to try to literally step back and realize what is best for children to learn how to keep themselves safe and realize a life fully lived.

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