Garth George: Don't let kids be naive dummies

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For years now, I have wondered at the continuous and increasing mollycoddling of our children.

The worst of it is that we no longer want to let children be children but want them to have an adult outlook on life from the time they leave infancy. Yet we make rules and regulations which prevent them from all the adventurous and educational things that prepare them for adulthood.

It is hardly pertinent to talk about my childhood since it took place in a totally different society to the one we have today. But many of the best of my childhood memories are of the freedom we had, including the freedom to learn, often painfully, from our own mistakes.

So I was delighted last weekend to read a review of a book titled Eating Dust, by star multisport athlete Steve Gurney, in which he contends that Kiwi kids are increasingly bubble-wrapped in an over-regulated society and that they need to learn about risk-taking.

He reckons he started learning as a baby when he found that eating dirt wasn't a good idea, as a 1-year-old that touching a hotplate hurt and that falling out of trees was painful. "But," he writes, "the learning I got from those injuries about judging risk, heights and asking the 'what if?' question means I can now climb much higher and more dangerous things, like cliffs, with intelligence and survive."

However, he says, something is happening in our country that is interrupting this learning process. It is, he says, "a sly, subtle almost unconscious change, but obvious to those conscious of it". It is most visible in schools but it is also glaringly obvious in the sports events he enters and in workplaces.

He says it comes by many names, including cotton-woolling, nanny state, sterility and political correctness. It is, he contends, stopping us from eating dirt and learning, is slowly but surely breeding naivety - and even stupidity - and is encouraging a blame mentality and a lack of liability.

"We're losing that sense of self-responsibility and satisfaction that comes from using intelligence and personal skills to remain safe, strong and confident. We're building a world of naive dummies, lowering the intelligence of our society; we're de-evolving. We need a different attitude.

"We need to allow ourselves to eat dirt and thereby develop immunity."

Gurney says government departments are doing their utmost to prevent us or our children from hurting ourselves and says he is becoming increasingly alarmed at the overwhelming emphasis on safety and political correctness he sees in schools. He calls it "cotton-woolling".

"I'm horrified," he writes, "to see lower branches chopped out of trees and jungle gyms ripped out of playgrounds so the kids can't climb, and lunchtime tag games like bullrush banned.

"They're trying to stop kids from hurting themselves. In the short term, it seems an admirable thing to do, but taking the long-term view, I believe we're killing them as adults.

"The Protect-icilin of the bureaucrats that was supposed to protect us from the pitfalls and storms of the wilderness, has incubated a new strain of participants who will kill themselves in their first forays into the wilderness of the real world."

Gurney says that we must let kids go back to being kids and get rid of the unwieldy burden of control.

"Nature, he says, "already has a system that automatically works. Let them climb and fall out of trees, crash their go-karts, get scrapes, scabs and stitches and the odd broken bone. They heal quickly and easily.

"Better that than letting them die, along with their passengers and other victims, at the wheel of a car 15 years on."

I heartily recommend Gurney's book, published by Random House, to all parents who care for their children's future.

garth.george@hotmail.com

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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