Showing 11 posts in Over-Protection.
I almost missed a very important article in Psychology Today, describing the serious challenges that colleges face in dealing with students who lack resilience to deal with everyday life:
Recent examples mentioned included a student who felt traumatized because her roommate had called her a “bitch” and two students who had sought counseling because they had seen a mouse in their off-campus apartment. The latter two also called the police, who kindly arrived and set a mousetrap for them.
The author, Dr. Peter Gray, believes that this trend is a serious problem:
I just ran across an excerpt from a new book, “How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success,” that I hope gets wide circulation. The author, Julie Lythcott-Haims, served as Dean of Freshmen and Undergraduate Advising at Stanford, and believes that helicopter parenting harms children. The part that caught my eye was an outline of recent mental health research suggesting that overly-protective parenting causes significant mental health problems:
I am always outraged by the stories of parents arrested for allowing their children to play in ways that earlier generations considered routine. But a recent court decision reminded me that the story is not always as clear as it first appears. Tammy Cooper made headlines when she sued over her arrest for leaving her children unsupervised. She said, “I took my lawn chair and put it on the sidewalk where I always sit and watch them outside when they’re playing." Nevertheless, a neighbor reported that the children were unsupervised and a police officer charged Ms. Cooper with child endangerment.
A recent court opinion, however, sets out a different scenario.
An important and fascinating analytical review from Canada concludes that risky play for children has significant benefits that outweigh potential harm. The researchers reviewed 21 academic studies of children, and concluded that giving children opportunities for risky play increased physical activity, social health, creativity, and resilience.
“Risky,” of course, does not mean unlimited. The review limited itself to activities “whereby a child can recognize and evaluate a challenge and decide on a course of action,” specifically excluding “hazards that children cannot assess for themselves and that have no clear benefit.” Thus, the article looked at play that included “play at height, speed, near dangerous elements (e.g., water, fire), with dangerous tools, rough and tumble play (e.g., play fighting), and where there is potential for disappearing or getting lost.” All of those types of play showed clear benefits, with risk of injury much lower than what adults assume.
One of the hardest parts of encouraging children to take age-appropriate risks is overcoming parents' hard-wired instinct to protect their children from everything negative. We must communicate to parents the benefits of risky play, and reassure them that we are not exposing their children to unwarranted danger. Fortunately, we have help with the current emphasis on teaching children resilience.
Fortunately, we can channel our protective instincts into actions that can help our children. According to the American Psychological Association, “The primary factor in resilience is having caring and supportive relationships within and outside the family.”
It's not enough to just recognize the benefits of risky play for children. We must valuate risks against a complex background of statutes, government regulations, and industry standards of care. Below are some examples of areas where we have to follow government mandates or industry standards, regardless of what we individually may think:
- Physical plant
- Sports safety rules
- Adult supervision – important guidelines are state licensing rules (if any) and industry standards.
- Staff screening – resources at Centers for Disease Control.
- Mandatory reporting of child abuse – ChildWelfare.gov
In areas where you do have leeway to allow risky play, follow some very important principles to be sure that the risks are reasonable:
- Always follow the safety standards in the field. For example, never shirk the skills tests for swimming. Be certain that your staff knows the proper standards, and monitor them to be sure they follow them.
- Be sure that the risks are age-appropriate. For most activities, there is a consensus among experts about the age at which children have the dexterity to start learning new skills and handle the risks of various activities. Know that consensus and follow it.
- Have supporting data outlining the psychological benefits of age-appropriate risky play and the dangers of too much safety. You cannot pull this out after the fact; you need to have at least some of it on your website and other promotional material from your first contact with parents and their children.
Following these principles will not immunize you from complaints, but they will help you defend your decisions to anxious parents.
A growing body of research argues that it is possible to keep kids too safe. As the New York Times recently noted about safety-first playgrounds, “Even if children do suffer fewer physical injuries – and the evidence for that is debatable – the critics say that these playgrounds may stunt emotional development, leaving children with anxieties and fears that are ultimately worse than a broken bone.” One safety expert, Joe Frost, has said that adults mistakenly believe “that children must somehow be sheltered from all risks of injury. In the real world, life is filled with risks—financial, physical, emotional, social—and reasonable risks are essential for children’s healthy development.”
The process, according to Dan Kindlon, a child psychologist and Harvard lecturer, is similar to how a child’s immune system develops. “You have to be exposed to pathogens, or your body won’t know how to respond to an attack. Kids also need exposure to discomfort, failure, and struggle.” Without that low-level exposure at early ages, researcher Chris Segrin notes, children have lower coping skills and “an exaggerated sense of entitlement . . . which is a near lethal combination of personality traits."
We cannot, and should not, avoid the reality that some element of risk is essential to helping children overcome any fears they may have. When children gradually expose themselves to more risks, such as climbing higher in a tree, say researchers, they are using the same techniques that therapists use to help adults conquer phobias. Those same researchers said, ""[I]t is suggested that we may observe an increased neuroticism or psychopathology in society if children are hindered from partaking in age adequate risky play." In other words, if children don’t face those risks and gradually move upward, they will always be trapped within their fears.
Of course, as with immunizations, we do not want to expose children to high risks before they have the ability to handle them. The next question, and the subject of my next post, is how to let children test their limits while avoiding serious danger.
There's a great article on science20.com about more problems that we are causing our children by constantly hovering. They are not learning how to be independent, developing self-control, or learning how to judge and overcome risks. Nor are they learning the resilience that everyone recognizes as essential in children. The risk of harm from strangers is much, much lower than the risk of impaired psychological development.
I suspect that what this child has learned is to never tell adults about a mistake. The school authorities need to read this article about how children actually process information about weapons. We recognize that education methods differ according to age; why do we insist on one-size-fits-all school discipline policies?
Speaking of imitation and imagination, I ran across this article describing how zero tolerance policies actually can harm children:
The zero-tolerance measures have emerged in a complex adult world navigating terrorism, bullying, reduced budgets and the emphasis on academics. But according to experts in and out of the classroom, the take-home message is children can't use the method they best understand—play—to make sense of the world around them, and to learn the socialization skills that will make them better adults.
The article cites several interesting studies, including one from the University of Maine. Although it was a case study with a small sample, it contains some very interesting findings, starting with the belief "that children’s pretending to act aggressively is not the same as acting aggressively."
Children need to play all sorts of roles with all sorts of implements (including imaginary weapons), as they work their way toward adulthood.
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