Writers of children’s books have always struggled with a challenge: how to get rid of the parents.
Have you ever noticed how many children’s books feature orphans? Now authors have a new layer of challenge: how to get rid of cell phones and other technology tethers. How can a child have an adventure when she is too supervised?
Unsupervised time and space is rare these days, but that’s where so much growing, learning and discovery takes place. And yes, misadventure. Kids need ample misadventures to understand the world and its thorny side, too. That’s why authors try every trick they know to get kids to stand alone, without parents or cell phones beside them to prop them up.
It’s hard to think of a children’s book where the parents have a main role. Children are either orphans or are whisked away to a magic land. Kids in Narnia are wartime evacuees. Kids in The Penderwicks have a mother who’s dead and a father who is absent-minded. Some children are given surrogate parents – Charlie gets Grandpa Joe in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – since aunts and grandparents tend to allow kids greater freedom. As for technology, authors throw cell phones from trains, drain batteries and resort to time travel to eliminate that crutch.
Kids desperately need unsupervised time in real life. Time to play where parents can’t see them. Time to talk to friends without adults listening. As they grow, kids need an ever-expanding range of unsupervised space. For young kids, this means playing alone in the next room or in the front yard. For older kids, the range may be the neighborhood block or local park. Soon it means the town.
Technology extends the parental reach into children’s private time. Their movements and very conversations are tracked. They are expected to be “on call” to their parents night and day. Besides being obtrusive, this constant attachment can stunt kids. Each generation needs time to figure things out, make mistakes, get a bit lost, and rely on themselves to sort out problems.
That’s hard when adult help is hovering, only a phone call away. Kids need to rely on their own resources. Their first instinct should be: what can I do? Not: Dad! Mom! Besides, it’s safer, too.
When we put risk and safety into children’s hands, they tend to perform less risky behaviors. Research from Adventure playgrounds shows that accidents go down when kids are allowed to take risks in their play. They learn to make choices. Learn to judge risks and evaluate their limits.
Adventure should not just be for storybook characters. Where can you add some degree of adventure to children’s lives?
What level of adventure and non-supervision are you comfortable with? Are you letting your child do things you did at the same age? Is there any training you need to do first before letting her explore?
More on RISK and its many benefits in childhood in the sequel to It’s OK Not to Share, coming in March 2016.