Shortly after we returned from our trip, I saw this car commercial in which a safety-conscious mom loaded her kid up with protective gear – helmet, goggles, shoulder pads, hockey gloves, etc – before handing him a tennis racket and sending him off to practice.
“It’s OK to be over-protective”, said the announcer. But he’s wrong. Too much safety actually puts kids at risk.
I know it was meant to be a humorous exaggeration – but there’s very real trend of parents becoming so obsessed with safety that some experts fear we’re raising a generation of bubble-wrapped kids, unprepared for the risks and challenges of adult life.
At the opposite end of the risk & safety spectrum are the parents of Abby Sunderland, the 16-year old
girl accomplished sailor who was rescued from the Indian Ocean last weekend, after a storm foiled her attempt to become the youngest person yet to sail around the world alone.
Many have accused Abby’s parents of being terribly irresponsible for letting her risk attempting such a dangerous feat, but I’m in awe of the Sunderland family and how they have raised kids so capable and courageous in pursuit of their dreams. (Abby’s brother Zac completed his solo sail around the world last year at age 17)
Most of us take for granted that a 16-year-old is nowhere near ready to face the challenges and responsibilities of adult life – and the vast majority really aren’t.
Maybe that’s only because we’re so concerned with their safety we don’t give them the opportunity to develop the necessary skills and confidence. If we trust our kids to take more risks, will we end up with more teenagers setting world records and fewer twenty-somethings still living at home?
As a parent, I understand the desire to protect children from harm, but I’m also worried about the risk of teaching kids to “play it safe” instead of pursuing their passions and making a difference in the world?
You Can Be Safe and Sorry
Will kids raised to fear and avoid risk grow up to be adults who choose “safe” careers instead of meaningful vocations? Adults who cling to miserable jobs they can barely tolerate rather than risk having to find another one? Afraid to try new things because of the risk of failure?
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
Thanks to many advances in technology over the last century, the world has never been a safer place to explore, yet people are more afraid of leaving their comfort zones than ever. Why is that? Have sensationalized media reports and insurance peddlers made us so oversensitized to danger that we see it even where it doesn’t exist?
Traveling has helped me put safety back in perspective, and I hope it’s done the same for my daughters. In other words, I hope they’ll grow up like Abby Sunderland (but maybe with slightly less dangerous passions!)
Another traveling dad recently said it best, as his family nears the end of their world tour:
If the only thing my kids get out of this year is the instinct to choose passion over safety, then it will have been worth everything we’ve spent, and everything we sold, to make the year happen.
Is it our duty as parents to protect kids from risk, or to help them learn to deal with it effectively through experience – even if it may result in some physical or emotional harm?
Will avoiding risk now make it harder for them to take necessary risks as adults? In our desire to keep kids safe, are we stunting their growth?
These aren’t rhetorical questions – I struggle with them every day, and I’d love to know what you think.