Today I read this AP story entitled “in the Wake of Tragedy in Indy, Parents Must Weigh Risks of Kids Playing Adult Games.” It was a reaction to the tragic accidental death of a 13-year-old after falling off his motorcycle in a warm-up lap for a U.S. Grand Prix Racers Union event.
The article quotes plenty of “experts” such as child psychologists and an “education and parenting coach” (A parenting coach. Are you kidding me?!) who are appalled that such risk-taking is permitted and complain that teens lack sufficient impulse control, are too drawn in by what looks cool, and must be “protected by society.” The parenting coach blames parents who are unwilling to impose boundaries. That’s a first!!
Of course, the death of any child is tragic. But is this a case of bad parenting? For that matter, what about the parents of 13-year-old Everest climber Jordan Romero or around-the-world sailors Zac (17) and Abby (16) Sunderland? In all of these cases, the kids had acquired an amazing level of expertise, and their parents allowed them to pursue their passions. But still, we hear the outcry of disapproval.
So at what age is it OK to let our kids take risks? Maybe the “experts” and a lot of the shame-on-you crowd should take a look at FreeRangeKids, a blog (and book by the same title) by Lenore Skenazy. She features articles, tips, statistics, and readers’ letters in support of the effort to raise kids to be self-reliant. She advocates common sense, as she write, “Children, like chickens, deserve a life outside the cage. The over-protective life is stunting and stifling, not to mention boring for all concerned.”
Indeed. We are so busy protecting our kids from fitted sheets, drawstrings, monkey bars, homemade cupcakes, lawn darts, etc. that we are robbing them of opportunities for adventure. I can recall riding my bike as a 9 or 10-year-old to the liquor store in our Southern California neighborhood to buy popsicles. According to today’s parenting manual, there are so many things wrong with those outings. But they gave me a little bit of confidence. What if we gave our kids adequate knowledge and a value system and then let them leap? They might get hurt; they might fail; but they will have gained experience.
Not every child is X-Games, solo sailor, or Everest climber material. But how will a child ever know what he can achieve if he’s not let out of the cage?