I confess. I was raised as a free-range child.
As a 5-year-old I was allowed to roam our neighborhood in Roseville. By the first grade I was allowed to walk almost two miles to school and two miles back home by myself. I was allowed to play along Dry Creek as long as I was with my 10-year-old brother.
Today a parent that allowed that to happen would be facing 10 years to life for felony child abuse.
It’s not that parents and society didn’t know better back in 1962. They were simply less paranoid.
The mantra in 1962 was you were raising kids. In 2018 kids are now treated physically as raw eggs susceptible to cracking and mentally having egos more delicate than a pampered prima donna.
I’m sure parents who raised kids in 1906 might say the same about parents in 1962.
But somewhere along the line we overshot the runway when it comes to reasonable safety measures and let our paranoia send us over the proverbial cliff. In trying to eliminate all risks to a growing mind and body we also devalued reasonable fear to temper unbridled confidence, took the sting and therefore the effectiveness out of failing, as well as turned what were once perceived as routine matters into daunting challenges.
There is little doubt the playgrounds of today are safer than schools and city parks had in 1962. Virtually everything back then was made out of steel to withstand the beating kids could give playground apparatus. Today it’s mostly molded plastic.
Before they vilified playground merry go-rounds, if you went flying off one you had to deal with figuring how to land safety on asphalt or dirt that had been pounded into concrete-like texture by repetitive use by kids. Today bark is considered a bit risqué with the preferred surface material being rubber.
Kids still skin their knees — I least I think they do. There’s no doubt they do it with less frequency. It seems like a good thing, but is it? While there’s the school of thought it toughens kids up, there is also another take that gets ignored — the ability to cope with challenges is diminished.
Rest assured if you skinned your knees enough times you’d work on adjusting your landing as well as sharpening you senses to know how to react if you suddenly go flying off the merry go-round.
Similar lessons were learned on all steel slides. If it was hot, you dressed accordingly. It didn’t take too many trips down a slide on a 90-degree day to realize you needed to have the proper attire for specific situations.
Of course the fact your mother let you go to a city park on a 90-degree day in itself accompanying brothers that weren’t even into puberty would be grounds for Child Protection Services today to remove you from your home.
I honestly believe kids today are a lot smarter than I was when I was their age. But where we have really let them down big time is not preparing them for the knee and even heart skinning they will get as they make their way through life.
The ability to assess risks and act or prepare accordingly is a process you learn through trial and error and not by instilling fear or securing 20 layers of bubble wrap around a kid while making them wear a football helmet complete with face shield.
It is much more effective and easier to learn if kids are allowed to fall and scrape their knees trying to master little challenges than waiting until they need to face the world on their own two feet.
Some contend letting kids grow up in a rough and tumble fashion makes them insensitive. No, it doesn’t. That’s where adults come into the picture.
The assumption that free-range parenting — the quaint moniker given to those who dare emulate what virtually every parent did back in 1962 — somehow means taking the kid home from the hospital and letting them fend for themselves and do as they please for the next 18 years is nonsense.
Kids aren’t dogs. Dogs if let to run wild will be wild. And if they are properly trained they will do what they are told to do. Neither way is how kids should be raised.
The goal should be for them to develop into their own person able to make independent decisions and thrive even when surviving is a challenge as well as to interact in a respectful and civilized manner with others.
Raising kids in a cocoon does them no favors.
This is not an argument to do away with rubberized playground surfaces or revert back to metal slides. That misses the point.
What we need to stop doing is trying to remove every perceived risk in childhood. Keeping toxic household chemicals out of reach of a crawling toddler is a lot different than making it a crime for a parent to allow a 10 year-old to walk to a neighborhood park or — horror of horrors — be left home alone for an afternoon.
If they are raised to evaluate risk by allowing them to scrap their knees in the little situations they will be able to master risk as the challenges get tougher.
But then again maybe I hit my head one too many times on that twisting giant metal slide that once was “the” thing for a kid to play on at Royer Park in Roseville.