As far back as I can remember, I was free to roam from dawn til dusk. I grew up in what you might call a mill town. 60,000 or so. In a river valley where the Fraser meets the Nechako. My neighborhood was right under Cranbrook Hill, literally the edge of town. Still, as long as we were back by dinner, we were untethered. We climbed trees, forded swamps, scaled cliffs. We ranged from one end of the city all the way around to the other. We built forts. With saws and axes and Swiss Army knives and hammers and nails and anything we could scrounge together. The oldest of us was 12 or so, the youngest 6. And nobody died. Nobody broke their neck. Nobody got murdered.
Maybe it’s still like that somewhere. You don’t hear about it though. Nowadays it’s “helicopter parenting” and “tiger mom” and no recess. And Ritalin and anxiety and obesity and school shootings.
I get it. We worry. We want the best for our kids. We want to save them. Shelter and safety and no fear. I’m the first to admit I ever-so-casually looked into subdermal tracking chips.
When you deny your kids independence and risk and figuring stuff out on their own, howsoever well-intentioned, you deny them the chance to learn how to deal with any of that. You deny them self-confidence. You deny them the capacity to negotiate risk. To make their own value judgments. By smothering them with safety, you prevent them from ever feeling safe on their own.
By saving them from every little risk, you doom them to a life of risk-aversion.
So I’m both happy and a little sad that places like this one exist. Http://play-ground.nyc which you will find on Governors Island. No parents allowed. Hammers, saws, nails, pipes, 2x4s, plywood, an old piano, bits of mannequin. It’s a junkyard. A parent’s nightmare = a kid’s playground.
Supervision is dead minimal. A couple adults wander through mostly to make sure no one’s bleeding to death, but for the most part kids are left to figure it out. Unstructured do whatever.
Parents lurk around the fences, but signs beg them not to shout advice or suggestions. “Your children are fine.” (but sign the waiver, because it’s still America).
And, shockingly, there has yet to be a Lord of the Flies incident. Or even a light maiming. Even tears are almost unheard of. Until their parents drag them out.