It seems like many of us kid-rearing types might be walking around with a movie plot of childhood playing in our collective mind that plays out in a couple possible versions. As parents and teachers we create a story of:
1)an idealized childhood experience where we hunted-and-gathered all the skills and resilience needed from our environment by our pluck and robust sturdiness (I possessed an excess of neither…in fact, I was more of a husky-Whopper-snarfing elementary kid!)
2)a present world that is a dark, dangerous American horrorscape of evil lurking around every corner and psychotic adults wait to pounce on our weak and needy children who obviously need our constant help and supervision.
Neither extreme was or is a full version of what our world was or is. By nearly all measures, the world is safer today than it has possibly ever been in terms of outside threats for those of us living in the US. The world is especially for our kids! This twist in our adult minds has real consequences that anyone around kids can see. More on this in a bit…
First, we are safer today from external threats than possibly any other time in human history.
Stats on our general safety:
1. Crime is back to levels when gas cost 29 cents a gallon
2. Homicide rates per 100,000 in 2014 were lower than 1950; down 50.5% 1993-2012
3. Pedestrian, bicyclist and car deaths at lowest rates in decades
4. ALL violent crime down 48% between 1993-2012
Stats on our kids’ specific safety:
1. Physical assault, down 33% 2003-2011
2. Rape, attempted or completed, down 43% 2003-2011
3. Murders of children by abductors constitute less than one half of 1% of all murders in the U.S.
4. Number of children abducted in “stereotypical kidnappings” in 1999 (most recent available): 115
5. Number of children under 18 in the US: 73.7 million (US Census Bureau, 2016)
(Sources: LetGrow.org, University of New Hampshire Crimes Against Children Research Center and U.S. Department of Justice)
In other words, we are living the “Good ‘ol Days” right now, my kid-rearing friends!!!!
Here are some simple ideas to quiet the creepy Muzak of fear-based thinking and a dark, dangerous American horrorscape:
1) Our kids are much safer than we are conditioned to think they are
2) As such, they should be given time and space to explore their capabilities engaging in non-scheduled, non-adult-structured activities that are outdoors if at all possible (check out https://letgrow.org/for-parents/ for great resources and ideas)
3) Acknowledge and foster both choice AND consequence to help them grow into the strength they are born with and need to thrive in the real world!
Second, it seems we suffer more internally today than possibly any other time in human history because we lack free time and movement.
Dr. Peter Gray is a research professor at Boston College who points out, "Children's freedom to play and explore on their own, independent of direct adult guidance and direction, has declined greatly in recent decades. Free play and exploration are, historically, the means by which children learn to solve their own problems, control their own lives, develop their own interests, and become competent in pursuit of their own interests. (Kids Need Play and Recess. Their Mental Health May Depend on It. Education Week blog, 01 August, 2018)
This doesn’t discount the real suffering that some of our children and adults in society clearly experience. It’s such a strange paradox—as the outside world is increasingly safe, our internal suffering expands through daily anxiety, FOMO, and an indistinct worry that buzzes between our ears. However, the time is now to actively and personally check the imbalanced crazy talk that runs in the background of our minds—turn that freaky Muzak version of American Horrorscape down. Turn it down a few notches by taking a breath—really, pause now and take a deep breath below your diaphragm. Repeat two or three more times.
Here is the twist in the adult mind that directly affects our kids:
Again, BC’s Dr. Gray, “Our anxiety and fear has become our children’s on a remarkable level. ‘Rates of depression and anxiety among young people in America have been increasing steadily for the past 50 to 70 years. Today, by at least some estimates, five to eight times as many high school and college students meet the criteria for diagnosis of major depression and/or anxiety disorder as was true half a century or more ago.’” (Kids Need Play and Recess. Their Mental Health May Depend on It. Education Week blog, 01 August, 2018)
Remember, we’re living the good ‘ol days right now—share that goodness by kicking your kids off their screen into the great out of doors. Start small and experiment with, “You are welcome to stare at your screen after you have gone for a 15 minute walk outside!”
Parent Like a Warrior of the Open Heart
Building our kids’ capabilities sure is simple, but it really does require some steps of courage both individually and in the context and pressures of our society today. Parent like a warrior of the open heart! Take a couple small, concrete steps to give your kids a chance to be unsupervised and outside as soon as you can make it happen. Your small act of courage will help their peace of mind…and all of ours in the long run.