Highway to the Danger Zone

Matt and I have found ourselves in a completely different parenting stage. Gone are the days where we can control our children’s environment and make every decision for them. With a daughter in high school and one in middle school, we are painfully realizing that our job has now changed to preparing them for leaving. The other evening, the two of us were sitting on our back porch discussing some drama that one of the girls has found herself involved in, and I made a strange connection. I had just read another article (HT: Megan Hill) about over-protective, over-parenting. As much as I like to combat this hyper-parenting trend, I know that I am still guilty. But my response to articles like this is changing as I reflect on this propensity to supervise our children’s activities to the point of their own detriment. I’m no longer fretting on whether I should let them go up the slide on their own, or if I should physically stay at the birthday party they’ve been invited to. Rather than worrying over the nearby creek or sketchy neighbor, I’m concerned over the worlds that I need to let my children enter independently. That is exactly how the article The Over-Protected Kid begins. Hannah Rosin writes about a playground in North Wales called “The Land.” This fenced-in acre is basically a glorified junk yard, where children are encouraged to explore, discover, take risks, and play like kids did before parents became helicopters. There are beat up mattresses, tires galore, old couches, stacks of wooden pallets, and tin drums from which they can light a fire in. Sure, there are some responsible “playworkers” who make sure that there are no horrible injuries or sinister acts, but they watch with more of a hands-off approach. Most parents would say this “adventure playground” is a major danger zone! Landscape Architect, Lady Marjory Allen, challenges the sterilized play environments that we have so calculatingly supplied, encouraging a “’free and permissive atmosphere’ with as little adult supervision as possible. The idea was that kids should face what to them seem like ‘really dangerous risks’ and then conquer them alone. That, she said, is what builds self-confidence and courage.” But I think about the danger zones in social media that Matt and I are trying to coach our children how to best navigate, as we ourselves are learning at a slower rate than they are. I think about the school dances, the football games, and the independence they now want in hanging out with their friends. Part of this new territory is downright scary, and yet we know that there is much good to explore, experience, and learn for our kids during this new stage in still very formative years. I remembered an article I wrote a couple of years ago titled Teenage Wasteland. Parents can easily coddle their teenagers and try to protect them from all pain and risks because we look at them as too young and incapable of traversing through the playground on their own. And so we shadow their every move and build a different kind of playground, couched with recycled tire flooring to protect them when they fall. And by fall, I mean, get a “B” on their test or don’t make the travel team.
We are the ones telling them they are too young. It seems that lack of experience distances the youth from gaining any respect from the middle-aged crowd (argh, is that me?), as well as the wise sages above them. So teenagers seem to roam around in the land of wild oats and technological advances. Maybe our hope is that they get all those wild oats out of their system before they have to really be responsible like us.
And let’s just say it, in much of the Christian culture, wild oats means shorts above finger tip length or listening to Justin Beiber. This year was a strange reality check for me. A couple of months into the school year, it hit me. My daughter is a freshman in high school. The three years of middle school just flew by. I realized something very scary when my she was apprehensive about taking a pizza out of the oven herself (to her credit, it was on one of those heavy, awkward pizza stones, and I would let her have it if she broke it). I had been doing way too much for her, and now I only have 3 ½ years before she will likely be out the door and headed to college. The “pizza incident” clarified just how far her dad and I had to go in getting Solanna ready for real life. I’ve coddled my daughter so much that she’d never taken a pizza out of the oven and she was scared to do it! She was the over-cautious kid that those helicopter parents I’ve made fun of produce! I’m glad to say that I have made some major changes since the fall. However, one thing that I realized with all this helicoptering is how we look at all the evils and dangers as outside elements, and fail to address the danger zone that is in our children’s hearts. Maybe much of this safety and health obsession is a clever distraction to the spiritual issues that are much harder to parent.