Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Kids are smarter than we may think

The other day I read an article that really made me think. It was titled Unleash our kids by Will Doig and posted on Salon.com. The theme of the article is about how protective parents can be nowadays, even though crime is at the lowest it's been in 40 years, and how giving kids freedom can actually improve the cities we live in.

I remember being around my daughter's age and calling on friends and playing out on the street. My earliest memories of that are playing on the playground that was at the centre of the townhouse complex I lived in in Ottawa. I'm not going to go on about the good old days, because frankly, my "good old days" aren't that long ago. However, I am going to say that as the years have gone by, the children in our society have enjoyed less and less freedom due to hyper-protective environments and a constant state of fear for many parents.

Do we really think that our children are any less responsible or conscious of danger than we were at their age? And if that is how we think, is that their fault or ours? I have been just as guilty of thinking my kids can't look after themselves, even if it's playing just below my window in our enclosed courtyard. However, not affording them the chance to be independent seems to be short changing them. It is also short changing our cities. Seeing children play freely is a sign of a thriving, safe community, where people of all ages feel comfortable walking through their neighbourhoods and creates a great sense of community, where everyone looks out for each other and will readily help a neighbour if they see they are in need. That sounds pretty amazing to me!

My eldest is nearly six years old. She has spent a year in kindergarten, where she absorbed a whole new language, made new friends, and learned all sorts of new things, all without me looking over her shoulder, protecting her and guiding her. What I have found is that being afforded the independence and freedom she enjoyed at school has created a sense of responsibility and maturity. It makes me confident that in just a few short years, once her brother has completed kindergarten, she will be able to walk with him to school without my supervision. In fact, I think she would possibly be ready as early as the next school year!

As a bicycle riding family, watching my children gain confidence on their bikes has had a huge impact on learning to respect how smart and responsible kids can be. I have watched my daughter go from riding in a trailer, to a trail-a-bike, to riding on her own two wheels, and in that time I have found that she has developed an immense amount of confidence. She knows our neighbourhood and our routes so well that many time I don't have to tell her when we're about to turn, and she will actually lead the way sometimes. She knows to slow down at roundabouts to check for cars, pedestrians and other cyclists, and to stop at stops signs and red lights, without us having to tell her. What that means is that our daughter is aware of her surroundings, the possible dangers, and how to avoid them. Bur the biggest impact of the freedom she has experienced is that she does not live in fear, and as such, we have developed a trusting relationship. Yes, she can still make mistakes, and we are still with her to guide her along the way.

I don't have the solution when it comes to changing the perception of safety for our children. I do know that unless we give them the chance to learn on their own, they will forever be dependent on us. I also know that kids are pretty darn smart. I've watched my son on a Spacenet, those roped climbing structures found in most play grounds nowadays. He will climb as high as he can reach, but on the way down get nervous. He will call for me, and I will watch him, but I tell him to think about it, because I know he can figure it out on his own. And you know what, he does, nearly every time. He has only slipped off the ropes a couple times, and I have been there to help him because he needed me. 

Even something as small as trusting him to find his way off the playground creates self-confidence, and its that confidence that will give him the strength and courage to keep trying new things without living in fear of the challenges he will face in the future. I am also growing confident that when my kids are older, and no longer have my watchful eye with them nearly every moment, that they will make the best decisions they can. And when they do make a mistake, which they will at some point along their journey, I will always be there to help.
Give them a bit of freedom and they
may just amaze you

No comments:

Post a Comment