Friday, January 31, 2014

A lesson from the schoolyard

Helicopter moms, look out! There's a counteroffensive being launched.

None too soon in my opinion. The current propensity for protecting youngsters from every form of risk has reached ridiculous levels, much to the detriment of kids who don't learn, until it's too late, that the world is a risky place and they'd better be prepared for it.

That trend was a spinoff of the self esteem movement that deemed competition to be bad, and rewarded kids for just showing up. The real world isn't like that either, despite their mommies' and daddies' wishes that it were otherwise. University degrees, athletic and academic distinction, promotions, raises, will all need to be earned.

Parents that try to grease the skids for their progeny undeservedly are doing those children no favours. What kind of message is sent when Mommy tries to pressure the teacher into awarding a higher, unearned, grade?

These ruminations were occasioned by the news that an Auckland school has reintroduced the kind of bedlam into playtime that used to be typical in earlier generations.

Going against the advice of many teachers, principal Bruce McLachlan tore up the rules that controlled recess. "We want kids to be safe and to look after them, but we end up wrapping them in cotton wool when in fact they should be able to fall over," said McLachlan.

The results were amazing. "Mudslides, skateboarding, bullrush and tree climbing kept the children so occupied the school no longer needed a timeout area or as many teachers on patrol. Instead of a playground, children used their imagination to play in a 'loose parts pit' which contained junk such as wood, tyres and an old fire hose."

They were motivated, busy and engaged, got into less trouble, didn't bully other kids, or wreck things around the school, according to the Principal.

Funny how that works.

The bonus is that a scraped knee is a small price to pay for life lessons that prepare children for the vicissitudes of life.

I know I sound like an old fart when I hearken back to a time when it was not considered cause for a lawsuit if a couple of boys had a disagreement and settled it with their fists in the schoolyard.

Look, I don't support bullying. Bullies need to be shut down, pronto. But kids also need to be taught to stand up for themselves, to not expect that their parents will take care of every problem that arises, and that actions have consequences.


  1. I must say that I was shocked when I came back to Ontario to teach after 12 years in the Yukon. The kids in Dawson City went out for recess until it was 40 below & some principals had been known to make everyone dress and walk around the school building - not matter what the temp. And that was more or less the way I remember it from my own growing up days in Niagara. You went outside at recess, end of story. But holy cow, the number of indoor recesses we suffered through when I returned to this area - I think the name for it is mollycoddling. I'm on your side, Doug.

  2. I am completely with you on this! We are raising neurotic children! Helicopter parenting is worse for self esteem than failing a grade, or not making a team when you try out for it. Kids that are given something or nothing have not achieved anything; they have nothing to be proud of, and therefore have no self esteem. I have never subscribed to this type of parenting. I've raised my kids a little rougher, and they are growing into confident, determined, hardworking young ladies with authentic self esteem. Good for that school for doing this! Perhaps the pendulum will start to swing back toward the center. Kids need to learn to cope in this world. They need life skills. How will they do that if they are raised in a bubble?

  3. I think part of helicoptering parenting is due, not just to the excesses of the self-esteem movement, but also to heightened fear in parents about stranger kidnapping and violence, fed by the 24/7 media's obsessive focus on bad news stories. I feel sorry for these kids. They will never know the joy of unstructured play, exploration and fun that I had in my childhood in a different time.