Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Bubble-Wrapped Kids

Never-satisfied Sue, a checkout-chick at a small-town supermarket, keeps complaining that my blog articles aren't intellectual enough, so tonight's will be a long one - and yes Sue, it will be another whinge.

A couple of weeks ago I was at a house on the east side of town (in case you didn't know, in almost every city of the world, the east side is the lower-class area - wind direction, industrial pollution, shade from hills, etc are the general cause), and I told my kids off for leaving a portable DVD player on the seat of the car outside, in full view of any passers-by "in an area like this". "Don't worry", interjected the lady of the house, a 21-year-old unmarried mother of 3, "we're the worst people in the street". Actually I don't believe her, but at least she was willing to admit her preceived faults, which shows more maturity than I expected. And then, when I commented that the wood heater, which was going flat-out, should have a screen in front of it so her toddlers don't burn themselves, she showed maturity once again: "They've all touched it once when it was going."

Now that might sound a very callous, cruel way of training children to you, but not to me. I remember a very similar situation with an ex of mine, Jen, preparing dinner. Her daughter Mary kept trying to climb up on the stove; Jen repeatedly told her not to, but she just kept doing it. After about the tenth time I stepped in and told Jen, "Stop shouting at her, just go over and get some ice from the freezer" Jen was horrified, but I insisted. Moments later, Mary put her hand on the stove, screamed and cried and had ice instantly applied to the burn, and never climbed onto the stove again.

There's an old saying, "sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind". Any parent who was brought up by good parents understands it. It hurts you more than it hurts the kids to stand back and let them make some mistakes, but you know you're doing it for their own good. Some lessons can only be learned through experience, not preaching. This doesn't excuse bashing or mental abuse, of course, but experience proves the Biblical saying "Spare the rod, and you'll spoil the child"… for the rest of their lives. You only get once shot at raising each child correctly, there's no room for trial and error, testing new theories or allowing the child to determine their own destiny. What is the point of all your experience if the kids can't benefit from it?

My kids were furious when we last when to St Mary's and found the playground there had had all its equipment removed, in case some kid hurt themselves. Schools are now banning tag, chasings, and any playground game that involves touching. Santa Claus has security cameras trained on him the whole time he's sitting in Walmart. Children are dragged off the counsellors at the first sign of shyness, openness, talking too much, being too quiet, not exercising enough, being obsessed with their weight. Every toy has to be retard-safe and every box have warning labels all over it. Schools are closed because someone poured rat poison on the floor. The kids spend too much time on the Playstation, but aren't allowed to play outdoors.

Society is raising a generation of wimps, of children who never get scratched or yelled at by the friends, who are molly-coddled and bubble-wrapped so badly they are suffering adult conditions like depression while still in junior school. Drugs are shoved down their throats instead of letting them learn how to deal with life's ups and downs. And then we wonder why they can't cope with life, after we took away every life-lesson which would have taught them to do so.

This is what it was like before Generation X, Y, ADD or whatever its called:

We survived being born to mothers who smoked and/or drank while they carried us. They took aspirin, ate blue cheese dressing, tuna from a can, and didn't get tested for diabetes. After that trauma, our baby cribs were covered with bright colored lead-based paints. We had no childproof lids on medicine bottles, doors or cabinets and when we rode our bikes, we had no helmets, not to mention the risks we took hitchhiking from home to our uncle's farm, where we built rickety treehouses in 50 foot pines and barns full of hay, chased the bull around the paddock, and drove tractors from age 7 or 8. We rode in cars with no seat belts or airbags. Riding in the back of a pickup was a special treat.

We drank water straight from the garden hose, not a bottle. We shared one soft drink with four friends, from one bottle, and no-one actually died from this. We ate cupcakes, white bread and real butter and drank soda pop with sugar in it, but we weren't overweight because… WE WERE ALWAYS OUTSIDE PLAYING!! Yes, we weren't only allowed to, we were told to! We would leave home in the morning and play all day halfway across town in a playground, catch tadpoles in the creek or play soldiers in the forest; we were taught to be home before the streetlights came on. No-one knew where we were all day, and that was ok.

We would spend hours building go-carts out of scraps and then ride down the hill, only to find out we forgot the brakes and ending up with blood pouring from our knees. We didn't have Playstations, Nintendo's, X-Boxes, no video games at all, no 99 channels on cable, no videos, no surround sound, no cell phones, no personal computers, no Internet or chat rooms… we had friends and we went outside and found them, then we would wander off somewhere and meet someone new and they would be our friends too then.

We fell out of trees, got cut, broke bones and teeth and there were no lawsuits from these accidents. We ate worms and mud pies made from dirt, and the worms didn't live in us forever. We were given BB guns for our 10th birthday, made up games with sticks and tennis balls and although we were told it would happen, we didn't put out anyone's eye. We went to Scouts or Boys Brigade where we got hit in the mouth playing the stick-and-rag game and our front teeth went through our lower lip. No-one sued anyone for that either, it was just part of having fun! We rode bikes or walked to a friend's house and knocked on the door or rang the bell, or just yelled for them! Little League had tryouts; not everyone made the team, and those who didn't had to learn to deal with the disappointment!

The idea of a parent bailing us out if we broke the law was unheard of. They actually sided with the law and told the local police to give us a good clip around the ear if we did something wrong! And the cops did!

And this generation has produced some of the best risk-takers, problem solvers and inventors ever! The past few decades have been an explosion of innovation and new ideas. We had freedom, failure, success and responsibility, and we learned how to deal with all of it!

When Kaitlyn was three years old she came inside crying because she'd fallen over and cut herself. She was sobbing hysterically, that heart-wrenching sob of misery and betrayal that a parent would willingly cut his own arms off to stop. "Why… did this… have to… happen… to me?". As I fixed her up, I said "Well, life has two choices. You can stay inside where its nice and safe and warm and you never get hurt, but you don't have very much fun… or you can play outside where there's lots to see and do, but sometimes you get hurt out there." She thought long and hard about those two options, and when I asked her which one she'd decided on, she replied "I guess I'll just have to be hurt sometimes."

Smart girl. I couldn't have said it better myself.

Is the world more dangerous now than when we were kids?
ABC Science & Society - Watching Your Kids Online
Dangerous playground games banned
School Rat Poison Scare

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