The crippling effects of overprotecting kids

Is dodgeball a mean, violent sport unfit for kids?

Is dodgeball a mean, violent sport unfit for kids?

By Jim Tortolano  E Pluribus Unum

Not all bad parenting comes from abusive parents guzzling cheap beer in a trailer park. A fair amount of it seems to spring from the educated, well-meaning and oh-so-involved fathers and mothers that you see hovering about schools, playgrounds and soccer fields.

The trend which began quietly with the so-called “permissive parents” who raised Baby Boomers has picked up speed to the point where it’s bigger a threat to the mental and emotional well-being of American children than, say, story problems in math.

I’m talking about wave of overindulgence that “good parents” seem to be practicing for their kids. It runs the gamut from banning any activity that’s fun (but which might, perhaps, lead to a skinned knee) to bossily intervening with a kid’s education by insisting that little Brett or Brittany really doesn’t deserve that D- earned on the last geography test.

In too many cases, kids are treated as fragile glass figures, for which any brush with discipline, manners or risk (no matter how slight) would crack them into a million tear-stained slivers.  A generation or more of bad pop psychology, along with an army of ambitious and greedy lawyers has contributed to this trend, but the chief carriers of the germ are parents who have distorted parental love into twisted combination of child worship and permanent bodyguarding.

To be certain, there are good reasons for some of the protections that have been erected around children.  Child seats in cars, helmets for young bicyclists and rubber mats below play equipment are appropriate and moderate solutions to real safety concerns. Anyone (from my generation) who has jumped off a swing set and landed on hard-packed earth knows that I am talking about. But even swing sets are fast disappearing because they are “too dangerous.”

Dodgeball, once a playground favorite, has been banned in any schools because of the matter of kids getting hit with inflated rubber bladders. It’s violent, aggressive and degrading, argue its opponents.  Youth baseball players struggle with helmets so big and unwieldy that they can barely turn their heads fast enough to swing a bat, let alone get out of the way of an errant pitch or throw.

Fathers and mothers routinely do their kids’ homework, science projects and more. If a child gets a poor grade, it’s probably the teacher’s fault (or, if you’re so inclined, the teachers’ union’s fault).  Many kid stay in diapers well into their pre-school years because it’s “too traumatic” to toilet-train a child before the kid is “ready.”

Children today are scheduled within an inch of their sanity. In addition to schoolwork, a typical middle class kid ends up in soccer, baseball, softball, karate, dance, and etc. programs.  Everything is organized and ruled by adults, whose motivations range from the sincerely helpful to the sometimes sinister.atlanticcover

Despite all these “youth sports” today’s kids are exercising less and getting fatter. Despite all the help from their “involved” parents and scared teachers, students continue to perform poorly, especially in comparison to other similar nations.

Even if a child lives two blocks from school, Mom or Dad picks them up in the family SUV on the off-chance that Charles Manson has busted out of prison and made a beeline for your neighborhood.

Young children are allowed to scream and throw tantrums in public places because “what can you do?”

The latest issue of The Atlantic has a cover story “The Overprotected Kid” which hits the nail right on the foam-covered head.  Fear (most of it unreasoning) has put kids in a prison of parent control that threatens their ability to function in the real world.

As Hanna Rosin puts it in her Atlantic article, “How did these fears come to have such a hold on us? And what have our children lost – and gained – as we’ve succumbed to them.”

Take, for example, the matter of play. In my kid days in the Sixties, if we wanted to play baseball or football or basketball, we didn’t wait for the Old Folks to raise funds, organize a league, create a schedule or hire officials. We simply got on the phone (or made the arrangements at school) and gathered together four to 10 like-minded nimrods for some informal athletics at the local schoolyard.

We brought our own equipment (little that it was), picked our own teams and did our own officiating.  Because the teams were relatively small, everybody played every down or inning or quarter.  When the ball was hit over the fence, the nearest kid had to climb the chain link, retrieve it and toss it back before the resident dog raced over to enforce canine trespassing rules.

Depending on the time of year or day, we might play two or three contests. Finally (but temporarily) exhausted, we would plop down on the grass and dirt and talk. Discuss teachers, sports, and girls, even our futures. Finally, we’d climb back on our bikes and head for home, our fun unpolluted by the “supervision” of an adult.

We got much more exercise that the kids in Little League. We learned how to handle our own affairs, to juggle schedules, to mediate disputes and how to play hard without playing mean. In short, we grew in the many ways that adulthood would eventually demand.

Today, many schoolyards are locked shut because of liability issues. Millions of kids “play” sports, which means they spend a lot of their time standing around listening to their coach talk.  Children are immobilized because going anywhere without parents is considered “risky.”  Little wonder they are getting chubbier than ever.

Everyone needs a little bit of uncertainty in his or her lives. Everyone needs to be pushed into going to the next level. Parents determined to run interference for their offspring run the risk of limited their ability to solve problems, be creative, take a reasonable risk or empathize with the less fortunate.

In the film “Remember The Titans,” Denzel Washington’s character cautions against making things too easy. “You think you’re helping these kids,” he says. “I say you’re crippling them.”

It’s ironic that in today’s society, the biggest obstacle to a child growing up can be “conscientious” parents who simply won’t let that happen.


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