Geek Teens: Some Risk Required

GeekMom
Wide-eyed. Wikimedia commons

I just outed myself. I publicly admitted to letting my teen take risks that would make most parents shudder. I’m not talking about the month long backpacking trip my 16-year-old took with his older brother and a friend. Nope, I’m talking about letting him meet up with middle-aged guys he talks to online.

The circumstances were perfectly suited to advancing his maturity as well as his skills. But to most parents, that decision marks me as a very bad mother. I’ll take that risk. Parenting has a lot to do with drawing the line between safe and unsafe. And then there’s that pesky line between good and bad.

It found it easier to see absolutes when my kids were babies. Breast or bottle, free play or playpen, guiding or scolding. As they got older I didn’t lose my cherished parenting philosophies and obnoxiously healthy dietary scruples, but I did relax into the gray area. Some would say I’ve gotten too relaxed.

Every day I watch as parents pile their cars with their darling backpack-laden children, then transport them all the way to the end of the driveway where they sit, engines idling, until the school bus arrives. The reverse process takes place in the afternoon. These kids are spared more than the exercise required to get from house to curb. Presumably they’re also kept safe from potential child abduction. I don’t know if this is the case in your neighborhood but it’s a standard practice around here, even though I live in a rural township so small that it doesn’t have a single traffic light. (It’s rumored we may get lines painted on the streets.)  And despite the pastoral beauty of our area, kids rarely play outside. Clearly their parents are quite a bit more cautious than I am.

Apparently this is a major trend. With the very best intentions kids are kept indoors, watched closely, even monitored. But why?

According to How to Live Dangerously by Warwick Cairns, “stranger danger” is so vastly overblown that you’d have to leave your child outside (statistically speaking) for about 500,000 years before he or she would be abducted by a stranger.

Violence against kids has markedly decreased and the overall crime rate continues to plummet. A teen is three times safer today than a teen in 1979. Sure, there was no Internet in the 70’s but online, the real danger to kids tends to be peer harassment (as Andrea Schwalm’s son recently experienced).

Kids require escalating responsibility as well as escalating risk in order to grow toward a healthy adulthood. The common practice of delaying risk (and often responsibility as well) stems from the best motivations: love, concern for their safety, interest in staying closely involved. But today’s highly cautious approach to parenting actually inhibits a child’s healthy development. It can result in young people who are overly anxious or who take unnecessarily dangerous risks. It can also leave them unprepared for adulthood.

The decisions I make for my family probably aren’t the ones you make for yours. I give my kids the go-ahead to build spud cannons in the name of science but I wouldn’t dream of giving them non-organic dairy products. I encourage them to join online special interest forums but wouldn’t permit movies with gratuitous violence. It’s not easy to keep looking at where we draw the line, but just like you, I’ll risk anything for my kids. 

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14 thoughts on “Geek Teens: Some Risk Required

  1. Wow, I’m really surprised about the bus-stop practice! I live in a small town and, while many parents drive their kids to school, there are also a lot of kids who walk or bike themselves. Many kids head to the library after school themselves (probably about 6 blocks or so) and hang out until it closes.
    Of course, I don’t know what it’s like at the bus stops because the bus only picks up from the few childcare places or if you live outside of town out in the country—in which case there really isn’t anyone anywhere near the bus stop anyway.

  2. Wow, I’m really surprised about the bus-stop practice! I live in a small town and, while many parents drive their kids to school, there are also a lot of kids who walk or bike themselves. Many kids head to the library after school themselves (probably about 6 blocks or so) and hang out until it closes.
    Of course, I don’t know what it’s like at the bus stops because the bus only picks up from the few childcare places or if you live outside of town out in the country—in which case there really isn’t anyone anywhere near the bus stop anyway.

  3. Laura, we parent similarly, it seems. When my kids were small, they spent countless hours outside doing what many parents would deem “dangerous.” We had a zipline that they used without supervision, careened downhill on rolling garden carts (naked, no less), and had access to tools. Today, they’re 15 & 18, perfectly healthy and comfortable making the 1 mile walk into town by themselves. I believe that yes, it’s our job to keep them safe, but harboring them from invisible harm doesn’t do anyone any good. Talk to me next week when my 18 year old finally gets his driver’s license. THEN I might be freaking out and a mite overzealous in my worrying…

  4. Laura, we parent similarly, it seems. When my kids were small, they spent countless hours outside doing what many parents would deem “dangerous.” We had a zipline that they used without supervision, careened downhill on rolling garden carts (naked, no less), and had access to tools. Today, they’re 15 & 18, perfectly healthy and comfortable making the 1 mile walk into town by themselves. I believe that yes, it’s our job to keep them safe, but harboring them from invisible harm doesn’t do anyone any good. Talk to me next week when my 18 year old finally gets his driver’s license. THEN I might be freaking out and a mite overzealous in my worrying…

  5. You know, I pretty much obsessed over my daughter’s safety for years. I mean really obsessed. She wasn’t allowed to play outside without me right there, and even then I wouldn’t let her play in the front yard because I was afraid I couldn’t save her if some guy dragged her into his car. I didn’t let her go on sleepovers or church-sponsored trips. I even called her in sick instead of letting her go on school field trips. It all made sense when I was diagnosed as OCD. Medication and meditation has let the calm mother emerge. Now the real struggle is to calm down my angry, acting out teenager who seems to be looking to make up for all the trouble I tried to prevent. I couldn’t agree with this article more. It also makes me wonder why our society is acts so obsessive (and according to my therapist, possessive) about kids. Maybe we all need to find our where our calm went.

  6. You know, I pretty much obsessed over my daughter’s safety for years. I mean really obsessed. She wasn’t allowed to play outside without me right there, and even then I wouldn’t let her play in the front yard because I was afraid I couldn’t save her if some guy dragged her into his car. I didn’t let her go on sleepovers or church-sponsored trips. I even called her in sick instead of letting her go on school field trips. It all made sense when I was diagnosed as OCD. Medication and meditation has let the calm mother emerge. Now the real struggle is to calm down my angry, acting out teenager who seems to be looking to make up for all the trouble I tried to prevent. I couldn’t agree with this article more. It also makes me wonder why our society is acts so obsessive (and according to my therapist, possessive) about kids. Maybe we all need to find our where our calm went.

  7. Amen, sista! We have four kids and would probably be friends with Kris’s family if we lived closer, because we also encouraged our kids to take risks. They learned how to use power tools with their dad as they built a playhouse out of dumpster diving wood when they were in ele. school. They rode their bikes six blocks to school in their middle ele. school years. They roam the five acres of woods in our backyard (alone, gasp!) and have to coax their timid play date friends to join them. I am glad to hear we aren’t the only ones who may seem ‘negligent’ but in reality are just teaching our kids how to be in charge of their own lives. Way to go, Laura Grace, for being bold enough to post this!

  8. Amen, sista! We have four kids and would probably be friends with Kris’s family if we lived closer, because we also encouraged our kids to take risks. They learned how to use power tools with their dad as they built a playhouse out of dumpster diving wood when they were in ele. school. They rode their bikes six blocks to school in their middle ele. school years. They roam the five acres of woods in our backyard (alone, gasp!) and have to coax their timid play date friends to join them. I am glad to hear we aren’t the only ones who may seem ‘negligent’ but in reality are just teaching our kids how to be in charge of their own lives. Way to go, Laura Grace, for being bold enough to post this!

  9. @Jonathan. A friend tells me in her town everyone drives kids to school. Streets are clogged for blocks at start and dismissal time, even on the most beautiful days. Aides have grabbed her daughter’s hand to prevent her from walking home more than once, sure that she is misguided because “no one walks!” Her daughter’s only complaint about the short walk home is that it smells like exhaust from all the cars idling, waiting to pick up kids.

    Thanks for the link Mim, I hadn’t heard of Gever Tilly. My kids “tinker” as he suggests. It’s almost sad that an enrichment program is required for kids to do hands-on activities.

    To Kris and Judy, I love hearing about your bold parenting. Wish we all lived closer!

    @Sherilyn. I’m still thinking about all you’ve said. Maybe our culture has a collective issue with OCD. Glad you’ve found your own calm.

  10. @Jonathan. A friend tells me in her town everyone drives kids to school. Streets are clogged for blocks at start and dismissal time, even on the most beautiful days. Aides have grabbed her daughter’s hand to prevent her from walking home more than once, sure that she is misguided because “no one walks!” Her daughter’s only complaint about the short walk home is that it smells like exhaust from all the cars idling, waiting to pick up kids.

    Thanks for the link Mim, I hadn’t heard of Gever Tilly. My kids “tinker” as he suggests. It’s almost sad that an enrichment program is required for kids to do hands-on activities.

    To Kris and Judy, I love hearing about your bold parenting. Wish we all lived closer!

    @Sherilyn. I’m still thinking about all you’ve said. Maybe our culture has a collective issue with OCD. Glad you’ve found your own calm.

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