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The Coddled Society

playgrounds, overprotective, children, safety,coddling, protection

Creative Commons: Los Angeles CB Grant

Hundreds of years ago a child was only a child for so long. When they got big enough to walk and carry, that’s what they did. When they got big enough to hold a sword, they learned how to use one. When they could ride a horse, shear a sheep, seed the ground or chop food, they did. There was no waiting until you were of driving age, drinking age, voting age. There was no waiting, sitting and playing while mom and dad prepared things for you. Childhood probably lasted until about the age of five and then you were put to work. Even if you were noble, you were learning the ways of society and ruling at an early age.

Anyone who’s lived on a farm knows this lifestyle. Farm kids don’t sit and watch TV before or after school. They feed chickens, milk cows, bale hay, muck out pens and do a myriad of chores to keep the farm running. Third world countries have higher populations and larger families because, in their poverty, the more hands that can work then the more money and food they can bring in, even if there are more mouths to feed. I don’t just say this. Studies show that populations slow and stabilize the more a country moves towards a good economy.

As a child I learned to cook and bake by the time I was eight,with my mother guiding. I helped stir bowls of batter, added eggs and made hamburger patties, basted turkeys. I was cooking on my own by the age of ten. I had to pick up after myself, vacuum, wash dishes, polish and dust. My siblings of both genders had to do the same. We walked to school, a good mile distant, from grades 1-12. We walked in sun, and in rain, in hail and in snow. I remember the big snowsuit in grade one and so much snow that I was late every day for a week. But I walked, by myself.

My mother told us to go outside and play. If we said we were bored you can bet she’d give us chores. Sure we had to check in or tell her where we were going and I remember getting in hot water because I went off and played in the alley with my sister and her friend at the age of four, and didn’t tell my mother. But I did it, without constant adult supervision.

My hand wasn’t held as I slid down the slide, I wasn’t told I was too young to bake. We learned and we grew self-sufficient. I could cook and drive when I moved out on my own and in with my boyfriend. And so could he. I’ve met men (more than women) who couldn’t cook because mommy had done everything for their sons or only children. I’ve met people who couldn’t iron and lived in pigsties because they were never taught to clean up. And I meet people who think children have to be protected 24/7.

Many threats to children haven’t increased over the years, but media coverage of kidnappings and perverts have. I drive by a school where the parents are lined up to drop off their children. I’ve read about a school that was going to raze a low hill because the children might fall down it. I’ve read and seen playground slides lowered, guards put up, safety nets added so that children can’t bump or scrape or get a few of life’s bruises.

And what do studies show, out of Norway and the US? That people who are coddled so much grow up with more anxieties, are less likely to take any risks and find all of the world a big scary place. In essence, they become victims of parenting. Never has there been an age where children were padded, wrapped, helmeted, swaddled and overly protected from the daily aspects of living. Sure, don’t leave toxic chemicals in the reach of a baby but teach your children how to be cautious yet adventuresome, and how to apply thought and learning. We never would have hit the age of exploration if all those searfaring adventurers had been raised as coddled children. Let your children live a little.

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Media Creates Paranoia

I was talking with a few people at work today and it came up that one woman has a 12-year-old daughter who is just ready to start walking to school, as opposed to being driven. She said they let you know when they’re ready to walk. I sometimes pass a school in the mornings where there are numerous cars with parents dropping off their children.

When I was a child, at the tender age of six, my mother took me to school the first few times. My next older sibling was six years older and in a different school so she couldn’t take me. After about a week I was on my own, wending my way through blocks and blocks to school. That school was well over ten blocks away.

In the winter, outfitted in multiple layers and big, clunky boots, I would trudge through Calgary snows to get to class and get out of the snow suit, or tights and pants and toque for the classroom. I was late every day for over a week because I just couldn’t make it through the snow faster. My teacher said to tell my mother I was late.

But I still walked to school. My mother didn’t drive. My father often worked out of town and people just did not drive their children to school. It could be argued that people have to go greater distances but we were far enough away that it took a child over a half hour (maybe it took an hour) to get to school. It was at least a mile.

Junior high and high school were all about the same distance as the elementary school and yet we continued to walk it, winter or summer. No one was abducted. I don’t think anyone was even hit by a car. People didn’t drive as fast, roads weren’t as crowded. Perverts didn’t lurk around every corner. I don’t know of anyone who was killed by any means while I was in school.

And speaking of perverts, I bet most parents would quote safety from murderers and abductors as their number one reason for driving their child to school. Probably safety from traffic and then distance would rate as second and third reasons.

Interestingly, we were mature or responsible enough and given the freedom (told to) go to school on our own as children. Parents didn’t watch our every move. We weren’t given cell phones, we weren’t given cars (only a very few kids in high school had cars). The maturity hasn’t dropped in thirty years yet the responsibility level has risen, so what has caused the overprotective nature of parents and the dependence their children now have on them to do everything for them?

Fear. Fear of murder, of sexual abuse, of abduction, of traffic injury, of succumbing to the elements. Overall, the incidence of murder and child abduction hasn’t increased in thirty years. However, driving children to school has. Interestingly, in the US, even the rate of pedestrian-traffic accidents hadn’t increased, but 50% of children injured by cars were hit by parents or other students driving. And school zone speed limits are often exceeded. I see this every time I’m driving through a school or playground zone at 30 km and I’m passed by 90% of the cars.

The increased driving can be partly attributed to the fact that more parents work and fewer stay at home with the kids, there are more cars so that each parent may have one, and media. We now have radio, newspaper, internet and TV. There are more channels and you can get news 24/7 and the same news repeated. And repeated. And repeated. In fact, not only do the news channels repeat and update us several times a day on the same dire crime, they now go into long talk shows and reports and interviews and research on a particular phenomenon.

With the inundation of events, these murders and abductions move to the forefront of our thoughts. Parents hear the details of a horrific child abduction and murder, where the body was found, how the child was murdered, the search and rescue attempts, the hunt for the murderer, the sorrow of the loved ones, and the trial with all the horrific details again. It becomes one never-ending circle, a parent’s worst nightmare and it feels so close.

The media needs to take half the blame here for being too focused on the dark, dire and depressing. When various statistics for most Western countries indicate drops in all sorts of crime including those against children, consider if you’re coddling your child too much. Will the next generation hide in the cocoons of their homes and condos, only interacting through virtual media, too afraid to talk to anyone? I’m worried that it’s already happening, perpetuated not by crime but by the fears of it.

US report on kids walking to school and crime incidences since 1969: http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/kidswalk/then_and_now.htm

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