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8/30/11

Creating a Generation of Wussies

Over the weekend, while at the park with my daughter, I came to a disturbing revelation. Now, normally when I'm with her on the playground, I'm pretty focused on her as she tears around the equipment with reckless abandon. But on this day, a brief conversation between siblings sparked my interest. A young girl, let's say 9 or 10, had climbed up one of the pieces of playground equipment and was perched sitting on top of it. Now keep in mind, that was what this specific piece of equipment was intended for; it had ladder-style bars and a flattened area on top for sitting. The girl shouted down to her brother, who I'd guess was 6 or 7, and summoned him to come up to the top with her. His response? "No, that's too dangerous!"

Wait, what? Did I hear that right? I had to do a double, if not triple take. This is a 1st or 2nd grade boy labeling a pretty harmless activity as TOO DANGEROUS? I had to stop and process this information. First of all, there's no way this is his own logic speaking. We've all been 6 before; 'too dangerous' is not a concept that we recognize. And that being said, there's no way he heard it from his friends. So there's only one answer..this kid was coming to this conclusion based on information he received from an adult, probably a parent or teacher. Mind-blowing. After witnessing this, and thinking about some other things I had read and heard about recently, I came to one conclusion:

Adults, we are creating a generation of wussies.

Sorry to be so blunt about it, but it's true. Now it should be said right out of the gate that I'm not some hardass, gruff father. Not by any means. I'm very much a sensitive person and consider myself relatively progressive when it comes to parenting. But let's face it, the facts are there to support my claim. A recent New York Times article titled 'Can a Playground Be Too Safe?' explored the fact that by trying to over-protect our children, we are actually stifling their development. To borrow the article's quote from Ellen Sandseter, a professor of psychology at Queen Maud University in Norway: "Children need to encounter risks and overcome fears on the playground." A study that Sandester put together with a fellow psychologist proposes that shorter, less risky playground equipment is having negative effects on our children's emotional and mental health. “Paradoxically, we posit that our fear of children being harmed by mostly harmless injuries may result in more fearful children and increased levels of psychopathology," Sandester said.

So, if that conclusion can be drawn from assessing the playground equipment alone, what's to be said about the seemingly sharp increase in parental overprotectiveness? Because let's face it; kids these days are coddled. And the problem only seems to be getting worse. We're in the age of Dateline NBC, lawsuits and protests, where parents are under a constant delusional impression that nothing bad should or will ever happen to their child. We might as well just pop our kids into bubbles right out of the womb so they never get their poor bodies nicked, bruised or hurt. We've seen dodgeball and other competitive games and sports removed from PE classes and recesses around the country because parents say they cause emotional and psychological damage to kids. Interesting. You know what else competitive games and sports can do for kids? Teach them teamwork. Teach them problem solving. Develop their social skills. And of course, stay in shape, which is another severe problem with this generation of children that deserves a blog post all its own.

But parents don't think about that. Instead, if Little Johnny comes home and is upset because he got hit with the dodgeball at school or couldn't keep up in tag, they think he's being victimized and pull out their list of attorneys. No more is it teach, teach, teach. Instead it's sue, sue, sue. Complain, complain, complain. Bitch, piss and moan because my child wasn't handled with soft kid gloves and treated like a super special, unique, one-of-a-kind snowflake that shouldn't be subjected to activities that kids have been doing for decades and turned out JUST FINE.

"Okay Billy, NOW you can walk to the mailbox!"

Here's a little piece of mind for all you neurotic parents out there. I was a chubby kid in grade school. I was never the greatest athlete. But every week, I participated in PE. Every recess, I played kickball or basketball even though I was picked towards the end. I played recklessly on the playground, I rode my bike fast, I ate non-organic foods and here I am years later a well-adjusted, normal human being. I'm not emotionally scarred. I don't have mental health issues stemming from getting pelted with a rubber ball or being picked last for scooter basketball. If you really think that withdrawing your kid from competitive or 'potentially risky' activities will better him or her for life, you are dead wrong. You are the one doing the damage. Overprotective parents are slowly but surely creating a generation of anti-social, developmentally deprived kids who are more likely to be overweight and will probably have anxiety issues because they've been restricted from potentially dangerous situations for their entire childhood.

And here's a message to all you kids, though the ones I'm trying to reach won't read this because their lunatic parents would never let them. That piece of equipment on the playground that someone tells you is 'too dangerous'? It wouldn't be there if it wasn't meant to be played on. Go ahead, climb to the top. And if you fall and get a bruise? Then you've learned something. Life is all about falling, learning from your mistakes, and brushing yourself off as you go forward. And life is also all about competing. The word 'compete' doesn't have to be a bad word, as much as you'll hear some adults make it out to be one. Competition doesn't end in PE class in elementary school. You'll be competing academically and professionally for the rest of your life. Those sports and games, believe it or not, can teach you a few things about how to succeed in life in a respectable way. Plus, they'll help you make friends and keep you from being a future contestant on the Biggest Loser. Get in there and play.

Do I want my daughter to be safe? Yes, of course. Do I WANT to see her get hurt? Of course not. And do I always want her to be happy and feel emotionally sound? Absolutely. But never will I place her into some type of absurd theoretical bubble and prevent her from having important experiences as a child that will help her develop properly. Accidents happen. But with every accident, there's a lesson to be had, and that's the point that some of you parents out there are missing. Quit creating a generation of wussies.

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