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Why We Need to let our Children get Hurt

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OK, from the title you might think I am a cruel psychopath monster who doesn’t care about children and that could not be further from the truth. I am a parent myself with 3 children whom I love dearly. I have also worked with young kids for the last decade in various volunteer capacities so I have experience with not only my own children, but others in my care. I never want to see any child hurt and my heart breaks along with millions of other parents when there is a tragedy where a child is injured.

This post is going to deal with our societies’ increasing focus on safety and security to the point that even playing games is no longer considered an activity we can allow because “someone might get hurt”. I am not referring to serious injuries here or abuse, I am discussing this from the standpoint of normal injuries doing what any rational person would consider as normal childhood activities, not tragedies brought upon children from some other forces.

There was an article today from CBS New York about how a local Long Island Middle School was banning activities out of a concern for injuries. Citing a “rash of playground injuries” the article states:

“Some of these injuries can unintentionally become very serious, so we want to make sure our children have fun, but are also protected,” Maloney said.

Without helmets and pads, children are much more susceptible to getting hurt, experts said.

Long Island Jewish Medical Center emergency room director Dr. Salvatore Pardo said he has been seeing “head injuries, bumps, scrapes; worried about concussions.”

To protect the children from getting hurt, the school was banning footballs, baseballs, lacrosse balls or “anything that might hurt someone on school grounds”. That’s a pretty impressive list of what we used to call toys when I was a kid.

Safe but (Not) Fun

This is not a new trend at all; it has become increasingly more prevalent in our society. There are lots of other indications that we focus on safety above all else. You can’t ride a bike in a lot of places today without helmet and pads. I never wore either and I am alive and well with no permanent scars, well that matter really. Playgrounds were first covered with padded surfaces instead of gravel so the ground wasn’t as hard and these days “risky” elements like monkey bars are being removed. Now, you get a slide, some steps and a bridge to walk across if you are lucky. Remember the swings that you used to be able to get about 20 feet up in the air on? Not anymore.

Now we are eliminating footballs and soccer balls because someone might get hurt. I assume that some children were injured either running and fell or were hit with the balls and were injured that way. Regardless of the injury, I think it is wrong to take these types of activities away and we may be injuring our children more by trying to keep them safe than they would ever be injured by a stray ball or run in with the ground.

I don’t know the specifics of the injuries so anything I am saying is based upon the information in the article and my observations elsewhere, but I am assuming these are normal kids playing in a normal school environment. I take for granted that the children don’t have health issues and they aren’t running through jagged pieces of metal and debris. All of that being said, playing games is a valuable part of growing up and getting injured or the potential for injury is a critical aspect of learning that we are cheating our children out of. That may sound strange if you are asking yourself how a child getting hurt can help them. Let me explain what I mean.

What does getting hurt teach us?

Most parents coddle their children to varying degrees when they are babies and toddlers. You want to make sure they are free from any harm and that is perfectly normal. I would say you aren’t really a great parent if you don’t care if your child gets hurt at all. We take great pains to “baby-proof” the house and lock anything dangerous out of the way. We stay with them at all times as they explore and pull dangerous items out of their little paws before they can be quickly inserted into that drooling mouth of theirs. Sometimes that works better than others. My own daughter had a knack for finding the one thing we didn’t want her to have and one more than one occasion we caught her with some substance ready to pour it down her throat. She is still perfectly fine and alive I am pleased to say although the Murphy’s oil soap story will hang around our house forever.

Skinned Knees where a summertime tradition at my house.

Skinned Knees where a summertime tradition at my house.

As our children begin to walk, they will inevitably fall. This will almost always result in tears and the occasional bump on the head or scraped knee to which we as parents apply a generous amount of love, hugs and attention. At a certain point most parents go through a transition. In the beginning you run to any sounds of impact or crying ready to swoop down and pick your child up into your arms making sure they are OK and wipe away their tears. After this happens a hundred or so times, you learn and so does your child that every bang and scrape isn’t life threatening. For normal bumps and falls the swooping is replaced with a gentle pat on the head, quick check of the boo-boo and in my case on a lot of occasions a casual “you’re alright”.  To which they run away and commence to playing again.

Children learn from injuries. They learn that not every injury is going to kill them and that each one doesn’t require a full court press from mom and dad. Injuries help us learn to be more coordinated and that actions have consequences. The story that comes to my mind is the electrical outlet. I can just imagine the comments I’ll get but most guys I know when faced with a child who wants to stick their fingers on a plug in the socket will say something like “they will only do that once” referring to the belief that once a kid has received a mild shock and the resulting pain, that lesson will be learned better than any lecture about the safety of electric plugs a protective parent can dish out.

It’s the same with bikes or skateboards. Getting on anything with wheels increases the likelihood that you will end up on your butt or your face at some point, but if you take away any risk, you don’t learn to get better. Falling actually teaches you how to maintain your balance better, brace for impact and to some degree just like the other injuries it makes you learn how to deal with a little pain. When kids are playing football you can learn how to protect yourself before an impact or how to fall without breaking an arm. Tag and baseball force you to focus on something if you want to prevent either being tagged or hit in the face with a ball.

By taking away the risks associated with life, removing any opportunity of learning how to prevent injury or how to deal with it afterward, you are robbing children of a valuable skill that can help their development and I think we are making children weaker and less able to deal with pain and adversity as they get older.

As parents our job is to prepare our children as best as we can for life so they can grow up strong, healthy and in the best position possible to go out on their own and make their own life. Life is full of pain and injury. To try and shelter our kids from anything bad that they might face in the future we are doing them a disservice I believe. Scrapes and bumps and yes, even some broken bones are normal. We heal and learn and go on with life. Children need us to let them get exposed to some of life’s bumps and scrapes now while they are in our care so that they can deal with them when they are on their own.

13 Comments

  1. Survival Sherpa

    October 10, 2013 at 9:47 am

    Excellent article, P. Henry! I believe that helicopter parenting is such a disservice to our children. As our society becomes more absorbed with the elusive meme of security, there’s an underlying current of control by others.

    We need to raise more free-range kids!

    Keep doing the stuff, my friend!
    Todd

    • prepperjournal

      October 11, 2013 at 10:33 pm

      Thanks very much Todd,

      Just got back from spending two nights in the woods with nothing more than what we had on our backs. It was fun and gave me lots of opportunities to see my children walk out life somewhat on their own terms. Nothing like the wonder of outdoors and the relative non-security of walking up and down mountains to test your resolve and determination which builds self-confidence.

      Pat

  2. Larry

    October 10, 2013 at 12:32 pm

    Great article. I’ve thought the same, and more, for years now. It’s not just that we need to let our kids get their share of bumps and scrapes. Perhaps even more important, we need to let our kids FAIL.

    I think that’s one of the things that has driven the increase in youth violence and crime in recent decades. We’ve had a movement to protect our children’s “self-esteem” by never letting them fail. At anything. If they do fail, we don’t teach them to compensate for the failure and try again, we sue the teacher that gave them the poor grade, the coach that didn’t put them on the team/in the game, we fill their empty, unquestioning minds with a never-ending series of unearned praises for even the most mundane actions. When they go to camp, everyone gets a trophy and if there are competitions between teams, “captains” don’t pick their teams, they are chosen by impartial lots so no one has to suffer the “trauma and embarrassment” of being picked last.

    This resulted in a couple of generations of children and young adults who have never developed coping mechanisms for failure. They have never progressed beyond the level of grade school children, emotionally. When they inevitably fail, they don’t understand why; they don’t understand how to pick themselves up and try again and haven’t developed the skills to do so. Frustrated, they lash out, just as they would when they were 5,6,7,8, etc. The difference is that the temper tantrum of a 20yr old is much more significant than a 5 or 6yr old.

    If we don’t allow our children to fail, and fall, occasionally, they’ll never learn how to pick themselves up, try again and succeed.

    Larry

    • prepperjournal

      October 11, 2013 at 10:35 pm

      Larry,

      I couldn’t agree more and what you mention is worth of its own post. We have to let our children taste failure and deal with it. Life isn’t always going to give out trophy’s just for showing up and the sooner they learn that the better off they will be.

      Pat.

      • Larry

        October 13, 2013 at 9:01 pm

        Pat,

        Thought you might get a kick out of this. I recently saw a bumper sticker that summed it all up: “Life Doesn’t Grade on a Curve”

        Larry

  3. HerbieGrandma

    October 10, 2013 at 2:48 pm

    Amen. You said it all.

  4. Mrs. WaterBuck

    October 10, 2013 at 3:40 pm

    Less footballs and bicycles mean more Internet and Playstation time. Playgrounds are considered dangerous, yet we bury nuclear waste in our soil. Hmmm.

    • prepperjournal

      October 11, 2013 at 10:36 pm

      So true!

      Our priorities are a little out of whack wouldn’t you agree?

      Pat

  5. Alkemyst

    October 10, 2013 at 6:52 pm

    FINALLY! Someone who GETS IT! GAAAAAH! I can’t tell you how frustrated I am with this idea that children need to be protected from everything that can hurt them, which, in this life means…just about EVERYTHING! What’re you supposed to do, wrap them in a mattress for their whole lives? Then cringe as the same safety nitwits 25 years later are castigating you for having an unhealthy couch potato for a kid because you were “protecting” them like the same safety nitwits said you were supposed to 25 years earlier?! You can’t protect your children from themselves, so the best you can do is teach them competence at living dangerously and that competence will serve them LONG after you’ve left this world. Any child who gets out of childhood without scars….didn’t have much of a childhood…

    • prepperjournal

      October 11, 2013 at 10:38 pm

      Alkemyst,

      Well put and I couldn’t have said it better myself. If life is a journey with no souvenirs (scars) how will you remember it? If you do, will you be sure you lived it to its fullest?

      Pat

  6. Echo Moon

    October 16, 2013 at 6:24 pm

    fantastic article!! i have to laugh when i think about my childhood. and mine was a long time ago as i’m 59 now. i’ve got more permanent lumps, bumps, indentations and scars on me and i’m female!!! if i got hurt and went home crying? mom or dad would wipe off the blood, put Mercurochrome on me, a bandaid and tell me not to do that again. mom would freak out some times and dad would either chuckle or shake his head. but most of the time i wouldn’t do whatever it was again. or at least not the same thing the same way. getting hurt outside playing taught me not to do certain things. it taught me to explore the options of how to do something without getting hurt if it was something i wanted to do badly enough. i went fishing and crabbing in the creek by myself, i went on hikes by myself or another friend that went for miles, i camped out in the back yard, in the coal yard out back, in the small patch of woods behind the coal yard, had campfires and cooked hot dogs for dinner by myself. this i did alone or maybe with another friend the same age.

    being “allowed” to get hurt, gave me the freedom and opportunity to explore not only my area but also myself. in doing so i learned a lot about myself and learned a great many lessons on what not to do or try again. it taught me logic and to think outside of the box.

    did i allow my kids the amount of freedom i enjoyed? yeah, for the most part. would i allow my grand kids that kind of freedom? no, i would not. there are to many freaks out there that are all to willing to do things that they shouldn’t.

    • prepperjournal

      October 18, 2013 at 6:40 am

      Thanks Echo Moon,

      Ah, good old Mercurochrome! Kids today don’t realize what they are missing out on. Now, even the band-aids are transparent and clear so they don’t show on your skin. Nothing like a big splotchy patch of red-dyed knee and an oversize band aid to prove you had seen action. Takes me back… sniff. 🙂

      Pat

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