Can We Please Stop Protecting Kids From Themselves and Ourselves from Lawsuits?

Madeline Levine’s thoughtful and true piece in the New York Timesabout raising successful children hit home hard today…and made me late for a meeting.

Levine thoughtful suggests that we let kids make mistakes and learn by falling down, rather than creating overly protective environments. Writes Levine:

“HANGING back and allowing children to make mistakes is one of the greatest challenges of parenting. It’s easier when they’re young — tolerating a stumbling toddler is far different from allowing a preteenager to meet her friends at the mall. The potential mistakes carry greater risks, and part of being a parent is minimizing risk for our children.
What kinds of risks should we tolerate? If there’s a predator loose in the neighborhood, your daughter doesn’t get to go to the mall. But under normal circumstances an 11-year-old girl is quite capable of taking care of herself for a few hours in the company of her friends. She may forget a package, overpay for an item or forget that she was supposed to call home at noon. Mastery of the world is an expanding geography for our kids, for toddlers, it’s the backyard; for preteens, the neighborhood, for teens the wider world. But it is in the small daily risks — the taller slide, the bike ride around the block, the invitation extended to a new classmate — that growth takes place. In this gray area of just beyond the comfortable is where resilience is born.”

This morning I dropped my kids off at Day Camp for Day 5 of their American day camp experience. My wife is away at a wedding so I got my first taste of camp drop off in New Jersey this summer. I was happy just to get the kids fed, dressed and out of the house, with bathing suits and brown bag lunches in tow and get to camp on time! When I proudly walked my 3 year old daughter into her tots camp on time, the loving counselor looked at me and said, “No open toe shoes in camp.”

I must have looked at her with a puzzled look because I really did not understand what she was saying. You know, us folks coming from Israel are kind of used to walking around in open toe sandals. We hike in open toe sandals, we walk the streets in them and some even go to synagogue in them.

She said, “We do not allow open toe shoes in camp.” I simply retorted: “Why?”

“Do you know how many bees there are on the way to the pool?” I was thinking, Bees fly, what does that have to do with open-toe shoes so I said, “yeah…” She kept going, “We have lots of wood chips in playground and other stuff that can get it kids toes.” At this point, I am thinking to myself “you know, I need to try to remember if we have bees and wood chips in Israel because that must be really dangerous.” Dutifully, I drove back home, got my daughter’s sneakers and drove them back to the camp, missing my train into the city.

On that drive, I dwelled on why I had never thought of not letting my kids wear sandals. After all, those bees and wood chips are pretty dangerous! Then it struck me. In Israel we have less protective parents and less litigious lawyers. We entrust our kids with lots of responsibility at a young age because, come hell or high water, at age 18 or 19 they are going to the army and getting a lot of responsibility and a gun. We let them run camps for disadvantaged kids at 16and there is not much regulatory oversight. We let them fall and fail because there is no choice. They get splinters and pull them out and if they get stung by a bee because they can’t fly like a butterfly, well they don’t go back to that spot the next time. But they sure as hell do not take off their sandals and the lawyers leave them and camp counselors alone when they get a splinter.

More important than anything however, is how we act. Are we true to ourselves and to our children. Do we react appropriately to them and carry ourselves appropriately. Do we learn from our mistakes or do we repeat them? Do we treat others like we would like to be treated or do cut a corner? Do we pursue self-fulfillment or fulfill others wishes? Do we spend quality time with our children so we can be bear them when they make mistakes? Parenting is hard work and a constant learning process. It requires consistency and deft application of standards. Levine finishes beautifully:

“Parents also have to be clear about their own values. Children watch us closely. If you want your children to be able to stand up for their values, you have to do the same.”

As I finish this post, I am going to give my kids a bath and some dinner…in my bare feet (I do not own sandals).

[Originally published on 6th August 2012 by MIchael Eisenberg