Kids protection gone too far

Do I want my kids to be hurt? Of course no. Do I want them to be constantly afraid of everything in life and paralysed in face of every challenge? Hell no. We -society- have a problem in the way we let kids learn and experience life. As usual the challenge lies in finding the right balance. Every time I talk to my grand-ma it's like she's sure 'outside' is utterly dangerous. Worst, she's certain it's more hostile than during her youth. Unfortunately this feeling is widespread. But the victims are the kids. We don't let them roam outside and explore. What do we do instead? Give them a screen and off to the couch, which is way more tragic.

I don't have any solution, yet, except letting my own kids take risks. Every time we do this with Mathilde, we can feel the 'pressure' from others, parents and whatnot. So I wanted to present here a collection of personal anecdotes, as well as great pieces of writing and excerpts from other people.

I think I'll come back to this topic quite often here. Kids are the future. Period. The way we raise them has a profound impact on tomorrow's society.

Children's Games by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1560)

A few month ago, I organized a skateboarding initiation at my kids school. I brought a dozen boards at the end of the day and invite all the kids who were interested to follow us to the nearby skatepark and hang out over there. To my surprise there were at least 50 of us. We completely filled the space. There were many kids of course but the parents were also stoked. Many were there just to watch and because they were intrigued, some jumped on boards too and tried to learn a few basics. Fortunately, a few of them also brought boards and joined me to help the kids and show them a few moves. Fortunately Mathilde was with me and taught many kids as well.

Something I didn't expect though: I spent the first half an hour reassuring parents to let all the personal protective equipment [knee and wrist pads for example] down. I saw some of them being genuinely afraid. I showed them how jumping on a board as RoboCop isn't helping, quite the contrary. We want kids to learn to apprehend risk and behave accordingly. Protective equipment is messing this up. You think you're protected so you go even faster, taking stupider risks. What you want instead is falling on the ground, feeling it on your body and see for yourself what your risk tolerance is.

There's been a lot of scratches of course but I can tell you, at the end of the session, there were huge smiles on every face.


Here in France, I see kids wearing helmets all the time for way too much activities. On their bikes? Helmets on. Learning to skate? Helmets on. Worse: riding their scooters? Helmets on haha! I'm still wondering what's supposed to happen while riding their 3-wheels-plastic scooter. So I'm wondering: what will come next? Wearing a helmet while climbing the stairs? or while at the playground maybe? or just when walking?

We spent a week in The Hague, Netherland last Christmas. Needless to say, this was a paradise for bikes. You can tell cycling is an important part of Dutch culture. And yet, no one was wearing a helmet; not even the extremely young kids riding alongside their parents.

Falling down on your own -especially for kids- doesn't cause death or major head injuries. It's the road environment that can be dangerous. Of course the cycling environment is way safer in the Netherlands. But even in France, if we're talking about kids riding scooters on sidewalks, there's no major danger.

On the opposite though, what are we teaching kids when we -parents- become scared of everything and force helmets all the time?


This one is coming from PG's Lies we tell kids:

If you ask adults why they lie to kids, the most common reason they give is to protect them. And kids do need protecting. The environment you want to create for a newborn child will be quite unlike the streets of a big city.

That seems so obvious it seems wrong to call it a lie. It's certainly not a bad lie to tell, to give a baby the impression the world is quiet and warm and safe. But this harmless type of lie can turn sour if left unexamined.

Imagine if you tried to keep someone in as protected an environment as a newborn till age 18. To mislead someone so grossly about the world would seem not protection but abuse. That's an extreme example, of course; when parents do that sort of thing it becomes national news. But you see the same problem on a smaller scale in the malaise teenagers feel in suburbia.


Below is a very interesting map -that's disturbing me every time I look at it- comparing 4 generations of kids and how far they were allowed to roam.

I still can't quite wrap my heads around this.


Today we drive our kids to school in record numbers. In Australia, the national rate of "active travel to school" has declined over the past 40 years from 75 to 25 per cent of trips.


I've been raised by a single mum who was a nurse so I got to become autonomous quite young. By the age of 6, I was walking to school by myself. I just checked on google maps, it was exactly 1km long. I got to cross a beautiful bridge over the Rhone river -we were based in Lyon, France. I've tons of a great memories from these twice-a-day solo walks. I also remember feeling so proud and so empowered by my mum's trust. I think it taught me a lot.

By the age of 10, we had moved to a new flat, closer to school, and I was of course still walking over there alone but this time with my brother, 5 years younger than me. I learned a few tricks to keep him safe that I still unconsciously apply in my daily life now -like when you hold a kids hand while walking, always do it with the hand opposite from the road, this way the kid stays between you and the shops instead of between you and the road.

I knew almost every store and coffee owner on the way. Of course I didn't realise this back then but now, I do think everyone was kinda aware of me passing by and just paid extra attention. I don't know if my mum asked them to do so though or if it was a natural behavior from them. I should ask her. Funnily enough, more than 25 years later when I came back to the city, a few of these people are still in place, working, and they remembered me when I showed up with my own kids.

I do remember one thing from this period: many people gave my mum a hard time -including the school- judging her and calling her names. I remember a few people stopping me in the street to ask me questions 'hey kid, where are you parents' and I learned not to pay attention, just throwing at them the same few words 'everything's fine, I'm just going to school, thank you buy'.


I remember being deeply touched by this whole episode by 99% Invisible named First Errand. I can't recommend it enough. Look at this trailer and how empowered -and happy- are the kids.

My First Errand is a gimmicky show with hokey music and a laugh track, but it’s also rooted in a truth about Japanese society: most children are remarkably independent from a very young age — way more independent than children in the US. In Japanese cities, fifth-graders make 85 percent of their weekday trips without a parent. And this remarkable child mobility is made possible by everything from the neighbors next door to the width of the streets.


How we design cities matters. As Kai pointed out in Dense Discovery:

The typical nuclear family home/ neighbourhood often sets the default against community and for isolation. Bigger lots, larger houses, higher fences are not exactly conducive to neighbourly togetherness. I’m reminded of Jeremy Williams’ essay: every child now has their own trampoline, while the public playground around the corner is falling apart.


I like how Jennifer puts it in Kids need the opportunity to take risks, learn from their mistakes, then succeed on their own:

Free range parenting means letting your kids have the freedom to experience life without us parents hovering and guiding every move they make. It’s letting kids have the room to experience the consequences — good and bad — of their actions. And learn from that. In my mind, it’s being normal. And not thinking you can control your child’s life at every turn ensuring they never experience one unpleasant moment. It’s treating your children like human beings with some degree of autonomy and independent thought, without letting them drive the car completely off the road, so to speak.


On that topic specifically, I can't recommend enough Mariana Brussoni whole essay on Why Children Need Risk, Fear, and Excitement in Play (and why adults' fears put them at risk). This should be a mandatory read for every adults [parents or not].

We parents are caught in a paradox. We desperately want to keep our children safe and ensure their success. We are also often terrified that they will get hurt and that they will fail—so we do everything we can to prevent that from happening. Yet many of those very efforts to manage our fears have paradoxically reduced our children’s safety and their odds of success.

For over two decades, I have researched children’s development, injury prevention, and outdoor risky play. I have learned that when we prioritize children’s play (especially the kind of play that involves some risk and lack of supervision) and the freedom to play how they choose, we help create environments where children and youth thrive. When we don’t, the consequences can be dire.


Last but not least -and because I highly recommend reading Atlas of Wonders and Monsters in general; plus I also took the first image at the top of this post from there- Etienne dug into 'risky plays' following the Canadian Pediatrics association recommendation that children engage in risky play—"thrilling and exciting forms of free play that involve uncertainty of outcome and a possibility of physical injury"—because of benefits e.g. to mental health.

Crashing Into Something or Someone, Perhaps Repeatedly and Only for Fun -what a title!