There’s a great long-form think piece in the Atlantic about over-protected children, which coincides with the New Yorker study that reveals one more such study will make parents go bat shit.
Like most things in the Atlantic, it’s really good and I didn’t finish it because it’s too long. “Over-protection” and “over-parenting” are phenomena we Waldorf weirdos talk about frequently. Letting children play unsupervised, letting them take appropriate risks, giving them real tools and a long leash are all encouraged, and this is good news for me because I’m lazy. It’s easy to let them wander off to play in the cul-du-sac because then I get to check Twitter without them bugging me. Also, I’m curious. I want to see if a two year old can find his way around a hatchet or if he can cut through an onion if we sharpen up the blade of an old cheese cleaver.
The other reality is that I would be emotionally destroyed if I let them get badly or permanently hurt. I remember when Otis was in his 1s and fell into a concrete block. He dented his head real good and the dent didn’t go away. I imagined a conversation we’d have about it in the future going something like this:
“Hey, Pop, why do I have this dent in my head?”
“Oh, you fell into a concrete block that we had in the yard.”
“Why did you let me play around concrete blocks?”
“Well, they were left over from a landscaping project…”
“But why didn’t you get rid of them? My head has a dent in it.”
“I guess I thought maybe you’d use them to build something?”
“Did I? Because my head? It’s dented.”
“No. You were way too small.”
“I see…” Points to dent. Awkward silence.
Fortunately for me, the dent went away and took this imaginary conversation with it.
Danger is everywhere, and it doesn’t make sense to worry about small children playing on a quiet cul-du-sac when we don’t worry about hurtling them down crowded freeways at 80 miles per hour. We keep the pool covered, we don’t have guns, pots of boiling water aren’t left unsupervised.
Vigilance seems like the only move here. When given a hatchet or cleaver, we remind them: “This is real. This can hurt you. Use it properly.” Awareness, alertness is vital to survival. We hear a car engine, we stop and listen, determine vehicle coordinates and direction of travel. We see smoke or steam and find the source of the heat.
Can you trust small children to employ these lessons on a regular basis? Absolutely not, but I think it gets them off to a good start and hopefully lowers the risk factor a little bit. Plus, we’ve got heath insurance and I know a real fast route to Urgent Care.
Luke, 2, with sharp knife.