Photo by Adam Kahtava
I’m beginning to accept that the theme of parenting ‘tweens and teens is “letting go.” (Those of you who have been there are probably chuckling to yourselves, and maybe wishing you could give me an encouraging hug.)
Not long ago I wrote a post about dropping my youngest off for her first “sleep-away camp” experience. In that reflection I referenced an article from The Atlantic that suggests how important it is to let our kids experience discomfort and frustration from time to time. Earlier in the summer I wrote of my concerns about sending my older daughter off to the Bible Belt with her youth group—who knew what kinds of theology she would be exposed to?!?—but decided that the value of being exposed to differences is greater than the dangers.
This past week, in the midst of a heat wave that has so far included six straight days of excessive heat warnings, my oldest daughter was at a completely un-airconditioned 4-H camp, and my youngest was was huffing it at a running camp in town. Yes, I worried about them more than a few times (and my ex-husband worried even more, which didn’t help my attempts to talk myself out of worrying).
Anxieties and fears are worse than broken bones
But once again, a fear-calming article has arrived just in the nick of time. This one, from The New York Times, is entitled Can a Playground Be Too Safe? Essentially, researchers are questioning the value of safety-first playgrounds, pointing out that children need opportunities to “encounter risks and overcome fears.”
Even if children do suffer fewer physical injuries — and the evidence for that is debatable — the critics say that these [safety-first] playgrounds may stunt emotional development, leaving children with anxieties and fears that are ultimately worse than a broken bone.
What’s interesting to me, if I can step back far enough from Mama-Bear mode to do some honest self analyzing, is that it’s not usually the immediate, first layer concern that worries me, but the fear of a deeper, longer-lasting one. In other words, to use playgrounds as an example, I’m not worried about my daughters breaking a bone (been there) or needing a few stitches as much as I’m worried about them becoming timid and developing deep-seeded fears that will follow them through life. But according to the NYT article, “A child who’s hurt in a fall before the age of 9 is less likely as a teenager to have a fear of heights.”
Living through pain teaches us that we can
When I really think about it, that makes perfect sense. We have to experience some of life’s dangers and injuries in order to experience survival. And the idea of survival is hard to grasp just by reading or hearing about it. You have to experience it. Once we have lived through something difficult or painful, we know we can survive. We know there is life after that difficult experience. Extreme cases aside, it makes us stronger, not more fearful. (And let me add that it makes us not just stronger and more brave, but smarter, too, because we’re learning skills from the experience that can be applied down the road.)
So back to allowing our kids to “encounter risks and overcome fears”—the wonderful irony is that as we provide opportunities for our children to do just that, we’re doing and learning the very same skills, from the parental perspective. If I was the kind of person who used phrases like “it’s a win-win,” this would be the perfect place to do so. :)