Protecting children from everything, teaching them nothing

My five-year-old niece got an iPad for Christmas. I don’t say this in a condemning way, she is entertained and even educated by a number of games she was already playing on my Dad’s iPad. It makes since for her to have her own, even if she is only five. Another niece of mine (with different parents) got an iPhone around the age of 10. I didn’t have a cellphone until my second year of university and no one called me on it except my Mom. Parents are now giving their kids full reign of technology and the internet. So why are they trying to protect them from every other non-digital aspect of life?

The Huffington Post just reported on growing restrictions on tobogganing across North America. The fun police have struck again, just as winter gets going. These days, it seems like the fun police are parents. Sure, they let their kids have iPhones, PS4s, over-priced clothing and other things to assure their kids that they are “cool parents,” but they don’t seem to let them do much else. (Before I go on, I should admit that I am not a parent and have no conception of the constant fear one has for their child. But I was a kid once, with parents who weren’t over-protective.)

It starts with Purell (and hand sanitizer in general). The amount of times I have seen parents heaping goops of this stuff onto their kids hands before and/or after they go to the playground, into a mall or just anywhere outside their home, is mind boggling. What, exactly, are the parents protecting their kids from? Dirt? Other kids’ boogers? A killer germ pathogen known to be found on slides? I doubt parents even know. It’s probably a “just in case.” You wouldn’t want to be the parent whose kid catches ebola on the see-saw.

But everything parents are protecting their kids with these days is superficial. They aren’t actually teaching them how to protect themselves. Have you seen kids wearing helmets and shoulder pads while tobogganing? I have. And the reason cities are banning it from parks is because people are suing when they or their children get hurt. Even though kids are wearing helmets, it seems like they aren’t being taught how to calculate risk. They’re being taught that wearing a helmet will protect you! So don’t worry! Aim your toboggan for that pile of rocks if you want!

Considering kids get iPhones and iPads without being told they’re too young to have them, it’s no surprise that they start thinking they can get their way. And when things don’t go their way, it’s no surprise that they overreact. They don’t know how to deal with consequences. Crash your toboggan and scrape your chin? Clearly that’s the city’s fault for not having a sign warning about the potential dangers. Get a blister while climbing a ladder at the playground? Purell isn’t strong enough. So then kids get upset and cry and whine and parents get to thinking their kids should just stay inside. They’ll be safe playing X-Box or using their iPhones.

Parents give their kids iPhones under the guise of protection, too. If their kid has a phone, they can always know what they’re doing and where they are. But even with apps and software that allow parents to see everything their kid is doing on their phone, don’t you think kids are going to quickly come up with their own text message code that seems innocuous to parents while really it means something completely different? It’s the same way how when I was in grade 10, telling my Mom I was going to my friend Brad’s house for a sleepover was code for “We’re going to drink disgustingly cheap wine in a park.”

When you allow kids to take chances and make their own mistakes, they learn things. Just like I learned drinking terrible wine in a park in the middle of night isn’t really all that fun. I only drank three or four times in high school after that. I’m not saying every kid is going to learn the lesson you want them to learn, but you have to at least give them that chance.

This includes letting them go outside. Let them play on the playground without drowning them in Purell. Let them go tobogganing. Let them rollerblade down that big hill. Let them go out with their friends on Saturday night. It’s on you to tell them to be careful. If they aren’t, they’re going to learn that sometimes not everything in life is going to go their way.