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WOT: The wussification of American children


misterhinkydink

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Warning: Fun ahead

Safety first, yes, but today's overprotected kids need to live a little

 

Peter Hartlaub

 

Friday, October 19, 2007

 

Every time I buckle my son into his car seat - positioned between the side impact air bags and above the antilock brakes in our five-star safety-rated automobile - I think about my preferred mode of travel in the summer of 1983.

 

I spent that season at the Connecticut wilderness home of a friend from elementary school, who was moving from the Bay Area to the East Coast. When it was time to drive the station wagon down the mountain road, his father would often give us a choice: Would we like to ride in the backseat or on the roof of the car?

 

In retrospect, this was probably a really bad idea. If two 12-year-olds were seen traveling on the roof of a car in 2007, it would likely trigger an Amber Alert, four dozen cell phone calls to Child Protective Services and a viral YouTube video to be played endlessly on "Nancy Grace." But I'm sort of glad it happened. Being perched on the top of that slow-moving Ford Country Squire was a small risk (remember, this was the pre-Ford Taurus 1980s, when station wagons had giant luggage racks that were practically made for passenger travel), but there was also a reward. Riding on the roof of that car made me a little bit less of a wuss.

 

The wussification of American children is a relatively recent phenomenon, but a very real one. We pamper our kids, over-schedule them, overemphasize fairness in competition (the score ends in a tie ... again!) and keep them indoors too much, to the point that we're doing them a huge disservice. Kids aren't learning how to get hurt, lose, fend for themselves, find their balance and discover minor dangers on their own - all important parts of growing up.

 

The most encouraging parenting-related quote I've heard this year came from Peter Cornall, the head of leisure safety for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents in England (best business card title ... ever), who says that overprotective parenting can hurt the development of children.

 

"Parents and children must not be frightened about venturing outside," he told the London Times in a June article. "When children spend time in the great outdoors, getting muddy, getting wet, getting stung by nettles, they learn important lessons - what hurts, what is slippery, what you can trip over or fall from. We need to try to break down the perceived safety barriers to playing outside."

 

I don't think he's saying people should get rid of their car seats or start smoking two packs a day while they're pregnant again. The point is to take some time and rediscover a few forgotten traditions, particularly ones that take place outdoors.

 

The popularity of "The Dangerous Book for Boys" is one great sign that coddling may be on the wane. That best-seller by brothers Conn and Hal Iggulden focuses on traditions - including how to build a tree house and instructions for making a go-cart - that are facing extinction in our paranoid parenting culture.

 

Accompanying this article are a few more "dangerous" things families can do together in the Bay Area, all chosen to help you de-wussify your brood. You may need to bring some Bactine now - but your kids will thank you later.

 

More inside

 

-- Archery, rockets and other old-school activities for kids, Page E8.

 

-- What reckless activities did you engage in when you were a kid? Join the discussion at The Chronicle's parenting blog, The Poop, at sfgate.com/blogs/thepoop.

 

E-mail Peter Hartlaub at phartlaub@sfchronicle.com.

 

Linky

 

This article appeared on page E - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

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I love it.

You know, I rode from AZ to Florida and back, all Interstate highway, while walking around in the back seat of an 82 Crown Vic. (I was 6). My wife buys helmets and knee pads for my son's skateboaring ventures... I won't let him wear it.

I blame the sue-happy people (and their money-grubbing lawyers), who want 16 million dollars when their little princess gets a boo-boo from her roll-caged, seatbelted, airbagged Power Wheels. Seriously... {censored} off.

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Kids are pussies these days. My fingers are so crooked there/s 1/4-1/2 inch gaps between them. I was like 12 when I decided the emergency room was a waste of money and decided electrical tape fixes broken fingers. I've got burns and scars everywhere. Hell, one of my ribs sticks out about 2 inches. It's like I have one "bone boob".

 

 

Want a picture?

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You don't see kids outside at all these days either. I don't know if its video games, over protective parents, or what, but when we were kids we'd all be outside on a summer night playing baseball or ghost in the graveyard or some {censored} like that. Ask any 10 year old what that game is now and you'd get a blank stare.

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This reminds me of a George Carlin bit, only he used the term "Pussification". He said something about how toys are too safe these days and that it should be more about survival of the fittest: the kid who swallows too many marbles doesn't grow up to have kids of his own.

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You don't see kids outside at all these days either. I don't know if its video games, over protective parents, or what, but when we were kids we'd all be outside on a summer night playing baseball or ghost in the graveyard or some {censored} like that. Ask any 10 year old what that game is now and you'd get a blank stare.

 

No kidding. We were out and could have been anywhere for as much as our parents knew, all day. They knew we'd be back in one piece, more or less, sooner or later. I remember when I was a kid the exact moment when I realized riding hanging on to the front hood of a car was not a smart idea.;) I think my generation, the one raising these wussy kids, should be jack slapped.

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Well, as a parent there are certain things you simply don't do, which is allow your preteen out late in the dark roaming the neighborhood. There are simply too many sickos in the world today. Now as far as staying inside- No way. Ride a bike, play baseball, football or basketball and don't allow them to play video games for any length of time unless it is raining. Even then, ours can shoot pool, play drums, draw or read books.

 

You're absolutely dead on about not keeping score, zachoff. That's an absolute joke, and speaking as someone who has had to coach kids football and baseball games that are forced to be either "We don't keep score" or always end in a tie, everybody on the team bats in the inning and "they're too young to understand being called out," that's all BS. It's frustrating as a coach. Most of the coaches including myself can't stand it. It's for the wussy boy dads who didn't play sports and are still clods, but want to spend time with their kid, so they get to screw other kids up, too.

 

Overall, I agree with the article.

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Well, as a parent there are certain things you simply don't do, which is allow your preteen out late in the dark roaming the neighborhood. There are simply too many sickos in the world today.

 

 

Yeah, I agree with that. Its too bad. I remember walking to school alone when I was in 1 st grade. We lived about 5 blocks from the school and there were no busy streets to cross. You could never let a 6 year old do that today.

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You're absolutely dead on about not keeping score, zachoff. That's an absolute joke, and speaking as someone who has had to coach kids football and baseball games that are forced to be either "We don't keep score" or always end in a tie, everybody on the team bats in the inning and "they're too young to understand being called out," that's all BS. It's frustrating as a coach. Most of the coaches including myself can't stand it. It's for the wussy boy dads who didn't play sports and are still clods, but want to spend time with their kid, so they get to screw other kids up, too.


Overall, I agree with the article.

 

 

Agreed. You hear some incredibly stupid things.

 

The whole 'not keeping scores' thing is a {censored}ing joke. Yes, you will lose sometimes. Yes, failure is part of life. Never knowing failure and never knowing what defeat is, is a major weakness. The real world is not nearly that kind or fair, and you will need to fight tooth and nail to achieve what you want.

 

Sorry, but your little angel will fail at things. We all do, we're human. Sports are vital for education because they teach teamwork, and the importance of trying - if you don't try hard enough, you WILL fail.

 

I used to be out riding my bike around the neigbourhood and mucking about in dirt over the summers until sundown. Just don't see that anymore...

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While I agree that you should keep score in youth events I don't think the only focus should be on winning. You should let all the kids play. Kids develop at different paces. How will a kid ever get any better if they make one mistake then the coach benches them for the rest of the season? They pay (well their parents pay :p ) to be in the youth league so they can play a game, not to be told they aren't any good and watch others play. They will have plenty of time in high school to be in programs that are about wins and not fun.

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I don't think there are any more sickos in the world today. It's that we hear about all of them now.

 

 

+1. I really don't things are much different at all these days, except for how much more kids and parents are tuned into some form of media so much more than we were. There was no internet, cable was just in it's infancy, most homes only had a phone or two, and probably not more than a TV or two, and certainly no cell phones. Our parents didn't freak out when we were out of sight for a few minutes and couldn't have our coordinates tracked down over a gps/cell phone system. We learned how to cross busy streets because we were out crossing busy streets. That's the same today, except for how bad everyone freaks out about the thought of it and how retarded it's been made to sound by the mass media. Kids need to be sent out in the world and learn what the real world is, and partents need to give them the tools to survive, and them let them go do it.

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My wife buys helmets and knee pads for my son's skateboaring ventures... I won't let him wear it.

 

 

Dude, have you ever met a 8 year old with a closed-head injury? My mother's worked with them (and with adults who've been closed-head since they were kids)...

 

There's "bah, it's just a scrape, walk it off" and there's "I don't want my kid to only be able to remember the last four minutes...for the next sixty years"

 

 

If you don't want your kid to wear pads, that's one thing, I'd actually disagree (since pads have prevented me from breaking a wrist), but the worst that you're doing to your kid is slightly increasing the risk of knee/elbow/wrist problems when he gets older, I know plenty of skaters who don't wear them and are absolutely fine.

 

Helmets though, they can prevent serious neurological damage. That's a big deal. I'm not kidding, if you've never interacted with a kid (or anyone for that matter) with a closed head injury, you should, it will likely change your perspective on helmets in a split-second.

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Dude, have you ever met a 8 year old with a closed-head injury? My mother's worked with them (and with adults who've been closed-head since they were kids)...


There's
"bah, it's just a scrape, walk it off"
and there's
"I don't want my kid to only be able to remember the last four minutes...for the next sixty years"



If you don't want your kid to wear pads, that's one thing, I'd actually disagree (since pads have prevented me from breaking a wrist), but the worst that you're doing to your kid is slightly increasing the risk of knee/elbow/wrist problems when he gets older, I know plenty of skaters who don't wear them and are absolutely fine.


Helmets though, they can prevent serious neurological damage. That's a big deal. I'm not kidding, if you've never interacted with a kid (or anyone for that matter) with a closed head injury, you should, it will likely change your perspective on helmets in a split-second.

 

 

 

I don't think bicycle helmets are needed. Skateboarders seem to want to try out more tricks than the average kid just riding a bike to a friends house.

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While I agree that you should keep score in youth events I don't think the only focus should be on winning. You should let all the kids play. Kids develop at different paces. How will a kid ever get any better if they make one mistake then the coach benches them for the rest of the season? They pay (well their parents pay
:p
) to be in the youth league so they can play a game, not to be told they aren't any good and watch others play. They will have plenty of time in high school to be in programs that are about wins and not fun.

No kidding. That's not what the gripe is. The kids will filter out at different times on their own. The difference is that even if the parents don't want to admit it or not, the kids know when they're winning and when they're getting their arses handed to them. I've "lost" quite a few games at the under 9 level because I not only play all the kids, I play them at all positions. ;)

 

Next year will be a different story. Different league, different expectations. I'll still play them all, but the ones that stink are going where they won't hurt the team. There are also some I have that weren't the greatest in T-Ball or first year of instructional, but as they've been worked with by myself and several assistants that past few years, they've gotten a lot better. I'm looking forward to seeing some of them develop into really fine ball players and good kids, too.

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I don't think there are any more sickos in the world today. It's that we hear about all of them now.

 

 

Certainly. The public's perception has been influenced by an overactive and sensationalist news media. According to the US Justice Department's stats, fewer than 1 in 4 of child abduction cases are committed by strangers. 76% were committed by somebody the family knows, but you'd never know that by listening to the news. Statistically speaking, your kids are safer with strangers than they are around your friends and family members.

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I don't think bicycle helmets are needed. Skateboarders seem to want to try out more tricks than the average kid just riding a bike to a friends house.

 

 

Unfortunately, I've met kids who were injured just riding their bike to their friend's house. Though you're correct, it's a far less common thing.

 

And anyone who is riding in traffic should be wearing a helmet (which does include older kids and adults).

 

 

Seriously, as a 14 year old (or so) I never wore my helmet. My mom brought me in to meet some of the people who had been injured from not wearing bike helmets, I've worn mine ever since. I have no desire to end up like them because it 'doesn't look cool'.

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