The Incapable Young Person
(as part of my contributions to a local newsletter)
I think safety is great. But nowadays, our concept of “safety” for children has mutated into an irrational fear of anything new, high, sharp, pointy, or fun. Once this way of thinking is standard, one’s children being any less “safe” becomes heresy. Unfortunately, I have observed schools that offer less freedom to capable children than prisoners in high-security detention facilities. Playing in the snow? Think of the lawsuits. Competitive sports? Just think of the psychological trauma! Even tag—Forget about it.
What looks good on paper for school administrators is draconian in reality. The cult of helicoptering, which is prevalent among schools and parents alike, not only stunts the self-regulation development of children and infantilizes teenagers, but also incubates a culture in which the less freedom a child has, the better, although no one will put it like that. Sadly, no amount of scheduled activities can counterfeit the happiness a child experiences when he accomplishes big things on his own. By nature, these happiest moments and lessons of childhood are exclusive to childhood. My husband and I grew up at a time when this helicoptering culture was just blooming, albeit right before they banned tag. Our generation was the first of 24/7 adult supervision and sensational shows about kidnappings. But I guess our own parents didn’t get the memo.
Today’s young adults are indicative of the school system and parenting style in which they were raised. I am no longer surprised at the low level of emotional maturity of our peers; adults 18-30 who reach to text mom or dad whenever there is an issue with school, work, or even in their own marriage. Here in NYC, it is extremely common for young people (especially men) to opt “wash-and-fold” for their laundry, not from lack of time, but from inability to take care of themselves. This inability extends to cooking, cleaning, and emotional independence. Is this the product of teaching children and teenagers that they cannot do anything by themselves? Then strangely expecting emotional competence upon legal adulthood?
The phrase “next 18 years” is a dysfunctional one. Adult properties are not bestowed upon people by time. Time may bring physical maturity of the brain, but that is no more special than growth of teeth or shoe size. No matter how well meaning, children will never be ready for the world if they are constantly stifled. There is plenty of room in childhood for new experiences and mistakes. But if young people are coddled, adulthood will not come at 18. It will not come after 25, 30, or 40. So let us allow our children to fall while the distance from their bum to the ground is still small. Because we do not want to raise children. We want to raise adults.