The Kids Are Alright

This morning I was pointed at this BBC News article by two different people. It’s about how traditional games like (British) Bulldogs and conkers are vanishing from school playgrounds, due to concerns about injuries and allergies. The conclusion seems to be that schools in particular, and society in general, has become too averse to risk, and that we’re harming our children as a result. I’d tend to agree, although it’s not hard to see how we’ve got to where we are.

As fairly new parents, this is something me and Gem have talked about quite a lot – how can we bring our kids up to be able to make everyday decisions for themselves, to make mistakes and learn from them, without leaving them open to excessive risk or danger as a result?

Of course, we’re only just reaching the stage with Heather where it’s about her making decisions and risking injury or illness, about setting sensible boundaries for her, but there have been plenty of things we’ve had to decide on ourselves, and I think those early decisions are a good primer for what lies ahead, which is all about finding balance.

Here’s an example illustration of the sort of things we’ve had to wrestle with…

We constantly see adverts for disinfectant products, that will kill increasingly high percentages of bugs and bacteria, making the world a safer place. Which is undoubtedly a good thing, but there’s also a school of thought that says kids only build up their immune systems by exposure to those same bugs and bacteria (well, some of them anyway), and that it’s the increasingly sterile world we live in that’s fuelling an increase in allergies. So, by keeping surfaces 99.999% germ free – which is clearly good in the short term – actually bad for your kids in the context of the rest of their lives? But what’s the alternative – don’t clean fanatically? But what if your child then gets sick? Does that make you a bad parent?

In the same way, are we harming our children by stopping them doing the same daft things and playing the same games we did as kids? Are we limiting the development of their decision making skills, and storing up problems for later life, when we as parents, teachers etc won’t be there to make those decisions for them? Did a few skint knees or even broken bones really harm us that much?

Of course the world today isn’t the same one we grew up in. Litigation is an every day thing, and as someone who does voluntary work with kids, I’m painfully aware of the legal and financial consequences should any harm come to those kids while they’re in our care. To be fair, I can’t think of any parents I’ve come into contact with who would be likely to sue were there an accident, but I’m sure they’re out there. I guess the difference is, though, that the kids I come into contact with are there by choice – both theirs and their parents – which means accepting a level of risk which wouldn’t be tolerated in a school, where you don’t have that choice.

But I can’t shake the feeling that wrapping our kids in cotton wool, stopping them from doing things because there’s a slight risk that they might injure themselves, is doing long term damage. I only hope Gem and I can find the right balance in the years ahead.


This autumn I'm running/cycling in a 30km duathlon and a half marathon, to raise money for Breast Cancer Campaign. You can read more about my challenge here or support me here. All donations, however big or small, gratefully received!