I remember once, years ago, seeing a toddler wearing baby reins being led around a playground by his over-protective parents. The playground was all grass, so as safe as you get (when I was a kid they were all hard concrete). On swings, on the slide, on the see-saw, walking around, the parents held onto the reins, keeping their little boy as close to them as possible. I had never before seen a child being kept so literally on a short rein.
I could understand it if you were on, say, a busy road, but in a playground? I wondered what it was like for the child to live with that level of fear.
I also remember a time on a beach when my kids were a bit older when other parents were allowing their young children to run to the end of a slippery jetty and then try to run away from the huge waves that came crashing in. I wouldn’t allow my kids to join in.
‘Are you CRAZY?’ I thundered. ‘No way! Do you want to DROWN? You respect nature or you DIE!’
So there’s limits, I’m not stupid.
We’re probably all over-protective parents with our first child though (so don’t try to tell me you weren’t…) It’s the lot of the first-born, they get the full force of that newly-minted awareness that it’s our job to keep another human-being alive. But then, they get a lot of advantages as well so it’s swings and roundabouts (around which I hovered in fear in the case of my first son).
With four children though, you just can’t keep it up and I gradually learned that the best way to deal with my fear that a child might fall out of a tree (for example) was NOT TO LOOK. This is how they did it in the olden days, kids were out on the streets playing all the time and probably doing far more hair-raising dangerous things than our kids, but parents didn’t see it. I had to ford a brook and get across a vast and really quite dangerous area of swampy wasteland dotted with bits of rusty metal, shards of glass and assorted electrical goods to reach the train tracks where I used to play as a child.
It would be irresponsible of me to recommend any particular approach to safety; that’s an individual thing that every parent has to work out for themselves according to their own comfort levels (*disclaimer) (*don’t quote me) but I do think that generally we should look away more. Over-protective parents don’t really help their kids in the long run. And we can’t deny the kids of this generation the opportunity to tell some good stories when they’re adults, the kind of hair-raising tale inevitably concluding with the words: ‘Thank GOD my parents didn’t see that! They’d have had a heart attack!!’
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