Let Kids Be Kids

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Mar 19, 2018

Lenore Skenazy, President of Let Grow, encourages parents to do what parents have always done: follow basic safety rules, and then let their kids be kids.

Forcing kids inside puts them in front of screens all day, makes them lonelier, and slows their development.

  • Child loneliness has increased since the introduction of the iPhone in 2007.View Source
  • Children require movement and play, which is reduced by screen time. A report from a British university found that children have reduced motor skills and reflexes compared to children six years ago.View Source
  • An English town brought their fireworks display inside and put it on a screen, citing the safety concerns of outdoor displays and robbing the children of the real experience.View Source
  • Before the advent of smartphones and hundreds of cable channels, staying inside was the lonely, boring place to be. Now the outdoors are considered the lonely place.View Source
  • Related Reading: “Free Range Kids” – Lenore SkenazyView Source

Overprotecting children has been linked to a rise in mental disorders. We need to let kids play, learn and grow to be healthy adults.

  • In his book Free to Learn, psychologist Peter Gray notes that the loss of child freedom has been linked to a rise in mental disorders.View Source
  • Society sees childhood through a “worse first” lens, looking at the worst possible outcomes first and ignoring the benefits.View Source
  • It may be hard to imagine learning happening outside of a classroom, but for most of history, children learned by copying adults and playing outside.View Source
  • Playing outside more does everything from lower the risk of obesity to decreasing depression and anxiety.View Source
  • Children who walk or ride their bikes to school get better grades.View Source
  • Related reading: “Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life” – Peter GreyView Source

Legislation and government agencies have created a world where it may be effectively illegal to let your kids have valuable alone time.

  • In Canada, a man was investigated for letting his children ride the city bus.View Source
  • A Maryland family was investigated for child neglect and endangerment for letting a 10-year-old walk his 6-year-old sister home from the park.View Source
  • Child Protective Services was called on a mom who left her daughter in the backyard to play.View Source
  • This type of legislation creates an atmosphere where parents are afraid to let their kids go outside.View Source
  • Protecting children should be a priority, but life is inherently risky. Basing policies on unlikely worst-case scenarios is foolishView Source
  • Related Reading: “The Coddling of the American Mind” – Jonathan HaidtView Source

According to so-called experts, even keeping kids at home doesn’t ensure they’re safe enough—especially if they make it into the backyard.

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that children should “limit sun exposure during the peak intensity hours—between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.”View Source
  • Parents Magazine warns that “bees are attracted to flowers, so don’t put fragrances or floral-patterned clothing on kids.”View Source
  • Ironically, floral scents may reduce the risk of bee stings, since it calms bees down.View Source
  • A mother who left her daughter in the backyard to play had Child Protective Services and the police called on her.View Source
  • Related Reading: “Free Range Kids” – Lenore SkenazyView Source

Child mortality rates have fallen drastically, yet the media pumps out sensational stories painting the world as more dangerous than ever.

  • Child mortality rates have fallen drastically, yet the media likes to highlight sensational stories to make people think the world is more dangerous than ever.View Source
  • A widely publicized study said that water from garden hoses contained PVC, which contains small amounts of lead.View Source
  • But the danger to children was exaggerated. If a person attempted to drink enough water to be poisoned by the PVC in the hose, they would first die of water overdose.View Source
  • Parents can now buy a water bottle with a Wi-Fi connection and a screen, so they can know how much water their children are drinking.View Source
  • Related Reading: “Simplicity Parenting” – Kim JohnView Source

How extreme has our coddling society become? A mother recently had authorities called on her for letting her daughter play in the backyard. 

  • A mother who left her daughter in the backyard to play had Child Protective Services and the police called on her.View Source
  • In Canada, a man was investigated for letting his children ride the city bus.View Source
  • A Maryland family was investigated for child neglect and endangerment for letting a 10-year-old walk his 6-year-old sister home from the park.View Source
  • WATCH: “Prisoners or Kids: Who Gets More Outdoor Play Time?” – Lenore SkenazyView Source

Pediatrics groups now warn that letting kids just play in the sand is too “risky.” We’re stunting our children’s growth by coddling them.

  • “Remember when digging in the sand at the beach was a fun activity for young children?” says the website KidsTravelDoc. “Sorry. No more. Based on recent findings, only with lots of do’s and don’ts is frolicking in the sand a healthy activity.”View Source
  • Karl Neumann of the American Academy of Pediatrics, says, “Studies show that children playing in the sand are more likely to become ill than children merely walking on it. And the risk of illness increases with digging in the sand, being ‘buried’ in it, and digging in wet sand.”View Source
  • The mental, physical, and cognitive health benefits of playing outside far outweigh the risks.View Source
  • Related reading: “Cupcakes to Chemicals” – Julie GunlockView Source

Keeping kids locked up doesn't make them safer—it often removes the opportunity to grow and learn essential skills. 

  • Society sees childhood through a “worse first” lens, looking at the worst possible outcomes first and ignoring the benefits.View Source
  • It may be hard to imagine learning happening outside of a classroom, but for most of history, children learned by copying adults and playing outside.View Source
  • Playing outside more does everything from lower the risk of obesity to decreasing depression and anxiety.View Source
  • In his book Free to Learn, psychologist Peter Gray notes that the loss of child freedom has been linked to a rise in mental disorders.View Source
  • Children who walk or ride their bikes to school get better grades.View Source
  • Related reading: “Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life” – Peter GreyView Source

Summer—glorious summer!

Time to dig in the sand, gulp from the hose, play at the park, and leap with joy! Unless you’re a kid—in which case, find yourself a comfy sofa in a dark, quiet room and settle in.

This is the season your parents are bombarded with the kind of warnings previously associated with incoming torpedoes.

The basic message: Don’t have fun—it’s too dangerous.

“Remember when digging in the sand at the beach was a fun activity for young children?” asks the website KidsTravelDoc. “Sorry. No more. Based on recent findings, only with lots of do’s and don’ts is frolicking in the sand a healthy activity.”

The blog’s author, Karl Neumann of the American Academy of Pediatrics, lays out his own don’ts: “Studies show that children playing in the sand are more likely to become ill than children merely walking on it. And the risk of illness increases with digging in the sand, being ‘buried’ in it, and digging in wet sand.”

Got it. Keep your kids on dry sand. No, wait—“Dry sand presents problems, too.” So, Dr. Neumann warns: “Discourage children from lying directly on the sand.”

While you’re at it, “Walking barefooted is another ‘don’t.’ Have children wear lightweight, ventilated, hard-soled footwear that covers the toes. This helps prevent stubbed toes, lacerations, puncture wounds, and burns from hot sand. Ideally, footwear should be worn for wading in the water.”

In fact, why take your kids to the beach at all? Better to keep them at home on a hard, nonporous surface, free of dirt and obstacles, checking frequently for venomous spiders, disease-bearing insects, and sewage. Children should also be in steel-toed work boots. Come to think of it, chain-mail wouldn’t be a bad idea. 

But even that isn’t enough. Simply keeping the kids at home doesn’t ensure they’re safe either, especially if they make it into the backyard. Parents Magazine warns that “bees are attracted to flowers, so don’t put fragrances or floral-patterned clothing on kids.” Surely, you’ve seen swarms of bees chasing children in floral prints.

The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that if your moppets still insist on playing outside, the little daredevils at least should “limit sun exposure during peak intensity hours—between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.” That shouldn’t put a crimp in anyone’s day, should it?

The Academy is afraid that kids will get too much sun. It’s also afraid they’ll get too little sun and end up with rickets. A related fear is that kids won’t get enough water because…everyone is obsessed with “hydration” these days.

It’s always seemed to me that drinking when thirsty does the trick. Apparently, I was wrong. Now there’s a product on the market—a water bottle with a wi-fi connection. The app allows parents to monitor how much water their child is drinking. The obsessive little gadget even knows if the kids are secretly not drinking—pouring out water to stop their parents from texting them to drink more. And an animated character on the bottle’s built-in screen grows healthier and happier the more the child drinks. Let’s hear it for more screen time! 

The wi-fi water bottle has yet another great advantage: it keeps the little ones from drinking the wrong sort of water. Google “hose water” and you will be drowning in stories linking the stuff to just about every illness except gout. Some study, endlessly reported, found that hose water contained “PVC plastic additives, which can cause birth defects, liver toxicity, and cancer.” Naturally, in these stories there is no mention of how many gallons of water a child would have to guzzle for any of these issues to ever develop.

Being a kid these days is no walk in the park. But that’s just as well. Yet another Parents Magazine piece warns that to keep children safe at the playground, you should “walk away if you see cement, asphalt, dirt, or grass: these surfaces are linked to head injuries.” So are walls, if you bang your head against them.

My advice to parents is therefore short and sweet: Tell your kids they can’t swim alone or get into a stranger’s car. And then stop reading other safety tips and, maybe—just, maybe—kids can have a real childhood. 

I’m Lenore Skenazy, President of Let Grow, for Prager University.

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