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All the Spindles in the Kingdom

Christopher Robin said to Pooh: “Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”

I remember going out to play in the summer as a kid, roaming around the shores of the lake near my house or sneaking into the abandoned lot with the no trespassing sign to jump our bikes over big piles of dirt. Watching Stranger Things, where the parents often have no idea where the kids are at, reminded me of how much freedom we had to go places and get ourselves into trouble. Frequently we also got ourselves out of trouble as well, which probably taught me more life skills than a lot of what I learned in school. When I think back to some of the movies I watched then, like E.T. or Stand By Me, they rely very heavily on the model of “go outside and play!” It seems hard to imagine urban kids today being allowed to wander off long enough to have stories like those to tell.

It makes me think of Victoria Fedden’s fantastic fake blog post called If 70s moms had blogs:

I sent the kids back outside again. This time I made the girls take the baby with them, which was fine because they were just going into the woods to play. Gave me some time to watch The Edge of Night in peace.

Stranger Things is set in the 80s and involves more spooky supernatural stuff, but it was still totally possible for the kids to ride all over the place at night, hide their friend in the basement for days, and keep creepy supernatural pets in their rooms without anyone noticing. The kid in E.T. had an alien living in his closet without his mom noticing, and he’d never have found an alien or been able to help it with much of anything if he wasn’t wandering around in the dark and racing FBI agents through the forest on his bike with a pack of his friends. Of course, Stand By Me involves a bunch of older kids going on a trip to find the dead body of another kid out in the woods, which is something one hopes might happen less if kids aren’t running around the woods alone all the time.

The question it leaves me asking is how much are we losing by protecting kids from every possible thing that could hurt them? Often when people say that something “builds character” it’s actually an excuse for allowing something crappy to happen, but it’s true that facing challenges and overcoming them (or failing to overcome them) is a huge part of developing survival skills and learning that you are brave, strong, and smart. The kids in nature kindergartens, where they play outside all day climbing trees and whittling with knives, almost never get injured and pretty much never by trees or knives because they’re actually taught and allowed to develop the skills to handle what they’re doing. Things seem dangerous to people in proportion to how easily and safely they can imagine themselves doing them, but really safety is more about knowing your own limits and having a realistic assessment of your skills and the environment you’re in.

It used to be that kids had actual fires in their rooms to keep them warm at night, and they had to learn early how to handle fire. Now daycares have kids inside in the baking heat and won’t open the windows because they’re afraid the kids might climb onto something and push themselves out.  It would be devastating if my child was the one to get hurt or killed due to something that could have been prevented with safety regulations, but I’m not willing to seal the windows of every room he’s ever in as part of a misguided attempt to keep him “safe”. I just have to do a good job of teaching him not to do things that might cause him to fall out of a window and choose as wisely as I can whose care I entrust him to, understanding and accepting that accidents can happen to anyone.

I’ve only watched the first episode of the remake of Lost in Space, but I remember the original show from when I was a kid and I found the new one disappointingly serious. Parker Posey is fantastic in general, but I feel like the whole affair loses something without the moustache-twirling evil of the 1960s Dr. Smith and the shiny space-style jumpsuits. In the new version, they all have to pass rigorous exams to qualify for going into space, which Will fails, but his mom fudges his results so the whole family can go.  The idea of the original Robinson kids being judged competent enough to be in space is pretty hilarious. New Will meets the famous Danger-Will-Robinson robot when his father is forced to leave him alone because he has to get a special mineral substance back to their ship to save one of the other kids who is trapped under a layer of ice. In the 60s version, the robot babysits Will while the adults go on missions, often allowing him to escape and get into trouble or spend time learning dubious things from evil Dr. Smith.

I fully admit that left to their own devices, kids learn all kinds of crazy things, but I feel like by trying to protect them from every little thing we’re failing to teach them survival skills. What will they do if they meet an alien or have to befriend a giant robot? Or, if you insist on being less imaginative about it, what will they do if they get truly lost outdoors and have to light a fire to keep from freezing?

The result of destroying all the spindles in the kingdom is that Sleeping Beauty has no idea what to do when she encounters one, so she can’t actually protect herself. The answer is to teach kids how to think about things, and give them all the information they need to recognize risks and take care of themselves. At least that way when a robot tells them there’s danger they’ll know what to do.

~~~

alex MacFadyen cannot believe that sledding has actually been banned in some parts of his city. Whatever will they do when he slides down hills on his giant robot next winter?

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