Bubble-wrapping Our Children Doesn’t Work

By | March 8, 2014

Originally published as a column in The Armchair Mayor’s News on March 7, 2014. 

It is snowing as I write this. Shoveling (in replay) notwithstanding, new snow always promises fun.

It is almost noon; lunch break for school kids, most of which is spent playing outside.
But, the snow has to stay on the ground, they are told. For safety reasons. I had first become acquainted with this safety measure when my oldest was in grade 1. Things have tumbled since.

Snowman building is allowed as long as you are a primary student and your hands stay close to the ground while rolling the snow. For everyone’s (un-fun) safety.
Kids don’t see it that way. They want to play with snow, and snowballs fights are a fact of life.

The risks associated with the occasional misguided snowball are an accepted, worthy downside. Still, can’t do it.

Sure they can find something else to entertain themselves with. On non-snowy days, tag sounds like a good option. Except that some BC schools have now adopted a no-touch rule, due to a few injuries caused by hands-on playing. The kind of games you and I played when we were little and fear was not a decision factor.

Children are encouraged to say ‘hand off’ to each other whenever they are being touched – friendly shoulder taps included. Or an adult will remind them.

Where to from here?

Children explore the world using all their sense and touch is a big one. They need to play, and years of research showed that playing is not just playing, but learning, developing, and understanding. We can state the general rules and help them understand what’s acceptable and what’s not, but they need to figure out the rest, like all generations of kids have.

How safe can we make the bubble wrapping around our children before they lose contact with reality? We are already witnessing communication misfires among children, young and old.

No-touch rules will never prevent bullying or its new vile form, cyberbullying. Nor will it help keep children safe from getting injured on the school grounds.

Children get hurt. They fall or they play in ways that may just see one of them hurt sometimes. Things are pushed too far occasionally and lessons are learned. Scraped knees are part of growing up, so are squabbles among peers.

Things can get confusing for the youngest ones with too many of these safety rules in place. What’s appropriate and what’s not? They might wonder about bullying and boundaries, and see everyone as a potential aggressor.

Safety redefined.

The first time another mom caught a glimpse of my youngest son, six at the time, carving a stick with his pocket knife while sitting on the porch, she raised a brow. I explained that he has to sit while carving, or else the knife goes, and there is no playing with it as a toy.

She did not buy it. Knives are dangerous. True. So are bows and arrows. But if we teach children how to use them safely and be firm about it, they will. Somehow children know when we mean it. Or learn soon enough.

There is a high chance that a child who has been taught about sharp objects and was allowed to use them only under certain conditions – carving marshmallow roasting sticks perhaps? – will hold onto that knowledge for life and even teach others too.

Instilling a sense of responsibility is part of parenting. And appreciated by children. That’s how it has always been. Bubble wrapping never worked to protect children from getting in trouble after all.

Same goes for playing. Rough housing is important for a child’s development. That it sometimes becomes rougher than it should be is true, but that’s how boundaries are learned and rules are set in place by parents.

Interestingly enough, children left to solve their own issues – basic rules in place – may just learn important life skills. Negotiation, reinforcing of boundaries, fairness, forgiveness and learning to stand up for themselves or for someone else who is being mistreated, these skills are all learned during hands-on playing.

They’ll also be useful later on when children sail into the often dubious waters of online socializing.

If kept too tightly wrapped and helicoptered by adults, children will either assume that the world is a cushiony place where as long as you don’t touch something or somebody you will not get in trouble, or that everyone intends to hurt them, or they’ll learn to be sneaky about hurting others. Or all three. No one wins.

Keeping children safe should involve allowing them to play, make mistakes, have adults teach them about rules, learn about boundaries, honesty, and most of all, reminding them about the old rule that has kept many alive and thriving: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’

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