Red light - Green light, Red rover, Four Square, Kick the can - These were all games my parents' generation played growing up. My dad and his neighborhood friends went home when the street lamps came on. He bragged about how they'd be outside for hours playing games. Despite the fond recollections of his childhood, he chose differently for his children. Our past times were safer, more controlled. Rarely did we venture past our fenced backyard. Quick trips around the block were shadowed by a trusted adult.
As a parent myself, I get it. I see the world today and I worry about leaving my son unattended in the backyard. Granted, he is only 7 months old now, so I'd never do that. But, I often wonder when he will be old enough to play outside alone. Within three generations children have gone from playing outside unattended for hours to playing in the backyard with supervision.
This trend of protective parenting is not limited to my family. There is a very fine line between protecting our children and stifling their growth. It may seem wiser to err on the side of safety, but maybe too much safety can harm children. A recent study published in The Journal of Pediatrics suggests that allowing children to "engage in activities that involve some degree of risk and personal responsibility away from adults… helps protect children from future anxiety by boosting self-confidence to deal with emergencies." Furthermore, the study suggests the rise in mental health issues can be attributed to fewer opportunities for play, roaming, and engaging in independent activities free of oversight and control by parents.
So what does this mean? Do we just let our kids roam freely? Absolutely not. For one, there are many new dangers in our world that previous parents didn't encounter. For example, the internet and our ever-evolving technology. Second, I think it's about finding a balance. We have a duty to help our children take calculated risks. We must educate our kids to calculate these risks. We have the immense joy and responsibility of educating and informing our children and learning to trust that they are capable and can make responsible decisions. The tricky part with this balance is that it is constantly changing. As our children get older and the world continues to change, so does this balance of risk versus safety that we are trying to maintain.
For me, my child must understand the risks involved with the freedom he is given. Growing up in the Catholic church I was taught that it is my responsibility as my son's mother to educate him in moral and spiritual formation. I was also taught to see my child as a child of God that deserves respect as a human being. My husband and I plan to have open conversations and educate our son on things he needs to be aware of with the new freedoms he may receive. It is important to us that he fully understands these risks before he is given new freedoms and that he has a plan in case he was to run into a difficult situation.
I know that we cannot prepare for everything. I know that we cannot shield our son from pain. I also know that I cannot parent out of fear. As I say this out loud I cannot help but think of the serenity prayer, "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things that I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." I pray that God gives my husband and me the wisdom to find the balance for our son. Thankfully he is still only 7 months old now so that balance is very skewed, but I hope when the time comes He will give us the courage to make the changes that are needed and the ability to accept the things that are out of our control.
Florida Atlantic University. "'All work, no independent play' cause of children's declining mental health." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 March 2023. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2023/03/230309101330.htm>.