(Not That) Fragile Generation

A friend shared with me an article from reason.com with a clickbait-y subtitle: “Bad policy and paranoid parenting are making kids too safe to succeed”. This, combined with the site’s tagline (“free minds and free markets”) made me wary of some libertarianist or even Randian objectivist bullshit. What does it even mean: “to succeed”? I myself would rather my daughter to be happy than successful.

freeplayIt starts well enough: the first three paragraphs made me nod my head in agreement, going “yes! that’s right! so true!” because I too want my daughter to climb trees and be able to solve disputes by herself. But then we get to this little nugget:

And this, it could be argued, is why we have “safe spaces” on college campuses (…)

Wait, what?

What has that to do with free play?

The general thesis of the article – which I ended up mostly agreeing with – is that free play is necessary for healthy development of children, and limiting it excessively – as seems to be the modern trend in parenting, social norms and even lawmaking – is harmful in the long term. But safe spaces? How did we get there?

Afen’t college students informed and consenting adults? And – as that one XKCD strip wisely pointed out – isn’t it their turn to define what that means? And if they make their grown-up decision to not listen to hateful or hurtful speech, they have every right to it.

Funnily, that same article states later on:

They [i.e. kids] also learn that they, not just grown-ups, can collectively remake the rules to suit their needs.

Hey, isn’t that just the exact same thing?

The article is all about letting children roam (almost) free and have (reasonably) unlimited play area. It’s against helicopter parenting, participation trophies, and most of all, sheltering kids from any form of failure whatsoever. And I agree with all that. It quotes an old saying: Prepare your child for the path, not the path for your child. I too believe it’s not a parent’s job to walk in front of the child but rather some distance behind, offering advice or help only when needed.

Every setback a child encounters can be a valuable experience, an opportunity to learn and build resilience. The article is all for resilience, and so am I. I’m privileged to see my  daughter being extremely resilient for her age every day. Simply standing up and resuming play after a fall. Switching kindergartens with excitement instead of worry. Enduring long trips like a champ. I see it all as both a testament to our parenting methods of trusting her intelligence and treating her like an adult from almost moment one, but also to her own inner strength.

And – in turn – I myself would agree that this is what may one day – maybe in college years, maybe at work, maybe in school or even tomorrow on a playground – result in her deciding by herself that she wants to be safe from hurt and harm, and create her own safe space. Not because of emotional frailty, but because she simply does not want to deal with assholes, as she – and everyone in the world, while we’re at it – has every right to.

(The article even makes the cardinal sin of referring to safe spaces as “attack on free speech”, which itself is a topic for another post.)

Where it describes free play as a basic need and valuable teacher of future resilient adults, the article makes a lot of sense. But then there are those libertarian bullshit paragraphs that are completely unrelated in the discussion and their presence there is a real stretch of logic that almost made me drop it.

In the end it introduces a foundation  established to “overthrow the culture of overprotection”, which I would maybe even get behind if it wasn’t for the fact that I believe they’re going a step too far by including the safe spaces among their targets.

If you believe in building up resiliency in your children by trusting them to go boldly against the world in their youth, why would you then take away their tools of resiliency when they’re adults?

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