Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Child Trap

That is the title of a New Yorker article a friend sent to me.

I skimmed it until I hit this:

Marano assembles her own arsenal of neurological research, guaranteed to scare the pants off any hovering parent. As children explore their environment by themselves—making decisions, taking chances, coping with any attendant anxiety or frustration—their neurological equipment becomes increasingly sophisticated, Marano says. “Dendrites sprout. Synapses form.” If, on the other hand, children are protected from such trial-and-error learning, their nervous systems “literally shrink.”

The tone of the article was intermittently obnoxious.

But I worry that my kids do not have enough freedom. Last night we took a night hike and my sister started telling stories from our childhood. There were the Great Neighborhood Wars against the kid who lived down the street and his friends (we were always victorious). We made ice rafts, swam, crabbed, rowed, sailed, built forts with stolen lumber, played flashlight tag all over the neighborhood at night...all without adult supervision.

We were allowed to roam as far as we wanted and we occasionally got into trouble. Which we relished, or even courted. When a friend and I were taking a shortcut home from school through the woods some big kids on motorbikes tried to run us down. My friend and I dragged a log across the path and I don't know what happened after the crash behind us because we ran like hell. We walked on the frozen river when the ice wasn't hard enough and it kept cracking beneath our feet. Our arch enemy broke up our ice raft with a sledgehammer while we were still on it.

My kids have never had any such neuron-sprouting adventures. They are newly allowed to explore the neighborhood, but they have to tell me they are doing it, and they haven't used their new freedom much.

Evelyn and her friend Sasha would like to be dropped off in the woods for a day and a night to test their survival skills and I am weighing the idea, trying to figure out how to frame it so that I can say yes.

Another tidbit from the article:
As for children's safety, Honoré makes what will no doubt be the controversial recommendation that we stop fretting about it. He quotes Samuel Butler on the subject: "Young people have a marvelous faculty of either dying or adapting themselves to circumstances."

What I am wondering overprotection a fate worse than death?

I just sent all three out to walk to their friends' house in the neighborhood.

News Flash: They came home alive.


AM said...

Think of the eight hours/day of education and dark sarcasm your kids are trading in for intellectual and frog-squashing explorations with you. I think they're very lucky.

patricia said...

I'm right there with you, worrying about the same things. But maybe we should take a lesson from our dear friend Stefaneener. Her kids seem to do lots of dendrite-sprouting explorations. In trees in their front yard, in the kitchen, the bathroom...