This week another headline about an unaccompanied child hit the news. This time, it was an 11 year old boy who was held by mall security until his father came because it was against a store’s policy to have children in the store unattended. This is on the heels of a couple of highly-publicized cases of child welfare agencies threatening action against families for allowing their children to walk the neighborhood without an adult.
It’s difficult to find the right balance between safety and freedom. No parent wants to put their child at risk. But I can’t help but think that we don’t always remember that there is a risk to children when we limit their freedom as well.
If children always have an adult there to guide them, will they ever learn to think for themselves? If they know that they are never in danger, will they ever learn to assess the risk in a situation? If they always have an adult there to solve problems that arise, will they ever learn to solve problems for themselves?
I’m certainly not suggesting that we should embrace a Darwinian parenting philosophy, abdicating any responsibility for safety and just hoping that the strong survive. But someone once told me that if we never allowed a toddler to fall, they would never learn to walk. Part of learning is the struggle, and though it can be hard to sit back and watch our kids take responsibility for themselves, it is part of our job to ensure that our kids are given the opportunity to test their boundaries and learn to be independent.
In fact, by trying to protect our kids from everything, it’s possible that we are putting them at an even greater risk that we haven’t fully considered.