I got up early enough today to watch a segment on Sunrise, a local morning talkshow on Channel 7. One of the guests who appeared on the show was Dr Michael Ungar who talked about how parents thesedays wrapped their children in cottonwool and cocooned them against the world. He recently authors a book called, Too Safe for Their Own Good. Parents don’t let their children take public transport, and are paranoid when their children play around with the monkeybars in the local playground. You can watch the interview here along with the video clip that triggered the discussion. The clip is about a New York mum who allowed her boy to ride the subway all by himself. You can also read a local newspaper article about the book here.
Dr Ungar says that if children are not allowed to take risks when they were little, they would be at a disadvantage in later life. If they don’t know the limitations of their body and take (calculated) risks, they wouldn’t know how to deal with bigger challenges in their teenager years. He also mentions that that is why a lot of teenagers rebel against their parents because they had not been given enough responsibilities when they were young.
I agree a lot with what he said – I’m sure that most of my nieces or nephews would probably never set foot in a public transport before. Some of my friends and colleagues in Indonesia consistently have their children chauffeur-driven to and from school, even if the school is just a two-minute walk from home. Understandably that those children, including my nieces and nephews, lead a far better life than when I was growing up. However, I enjoyed my seemingly risk-filled childhood – my mum entrusted me and my younger brother to the becak (similar to rickshaw) driver to carry us to school even when I was only about seven or eight. I also took public minibus to school and to my English course when I was nine in Bandung, Indonesia. I have been trained from a young age to travel on my own, trust my instinct and take calculated risks. I believe that such experiences, along with my genetic dispositions (haha), have made me more confident in travelling around the world all by myself, or even plonking myself out of one country and planting myself elsewhere. I am still a conservative guy in most areas, but when it comes to travelling or taking risks in exploring new regions, I’m on!
Even though I was considered better-behaved than my younger brother, I got to have stitches in my chin due to a minor accident after a cat-and-mouse game with the neighbourhood children when I was five. I tripped on a tent rope, fell down and lost consciousness in a boyscout gathering at school. So I’ve got my share of childhood risks … haha. The only regret is that I should’ve persisted, or at least somebody else should’ve forced me to persist, in riding a bike. I remember when I was young, I went with my fifth sister when she was learning how to ride a bike – she fell down of course and I was pretty scared. Then, I went with my older brother when he was learning how to ride a bike as well – a similar thing happened and that was it! I didn’t want to ride any bikes after that. I wish I was forced to learn! Even now in my adulthood, sometimes I dream that I can ride a bike – of exploring the countryside on my bike with a sense of freedom. I got pretty close to learning when I was a student at the University of South Australia. At the Hampstead Centre International Student Residence, a Dutch exchange student from Enschede was kind enough to teach me how to ride a bike in the park near the dorm buildings. I provided the entertainment for my dormmates that afternoon! Alas, that was the only session and I still don’t know how to ride a bike. Embarassing, eh? 😳
Back to the issue of childhood risks, of course there are always risks on the road for younger children – the threats of paedophilias, kidnappers, accidents – you name it. However, such threats probably existed when I was growing up as well. That’s why we have faith, I suppose. Nothing bad happened to me when I was growing up, even when I had to sit next to strangers and at the mercy of the gung-ho public transport drivers.
I’m sure that my nieces and nephews will grow up to be well-adjusted adults. I just hope that they will also allow themselves to take some risk, be hurt, and learn from the experience! I know I may end up being a very protective dad when I have my own children, but this blog item will remind me to allow my children to explore and take calculated risks! 🙂