The wrong choices are why we suffer but love requires choice. So God risks choice.
But as discussed, might it be we don’t have the full picture? And not just missing the full picture by not seeing what God has protected us from but why it is that God actually hasn’t protected us.
…not only was the risk of a child becoming the victim of an accident or crime extremely low several decades ago, it’s even lower now. We also discussed the fact that the tiny risk that still does exist seems impossible to completely counter, no matter how strenuously we try;
Nonetheless, as long as some risk, no matter how infinitesimally small or impossible to influence remains, many parents feel driven to do everything in their power to mitigate it, on the chance that their efforts can somehow tip the odds, or, more realistically, simply because it feels better to know you’ve done all you can to keep your kids safe.
What isn’t typically appreciated concerning risk management, is that when you control for one kind of danger, sometimes another kind emerges in its place.
These risks provoke a less visceral response, because their danger happens in slow motion, over a long period of time. Nonetheless, their physical, mental, and emotional effects can be just as real, and profoundly detrimental.
Without the experience of being engaged in unstructured play, away from the watchful gaze of grownups, kids fail to learn how to entertain themselves, how to be self-directed, how to figure out how to spend their time.
How many kids today are having that experience where they’re the ones who initiate and carry out their own activities?
It’s no wonder that one of the biggest things young adults struggle with today is being self-starters. Once they’re out of college, and the structures of their childhood and adolescence have been pulled out from beneath them, they feel adrift, waiting in vain for someone to direct their path and tell them which steps to take next.
It’s not just that the activities of modern children are more structured either, but that their toys are too. Left to their own devices, children must make use of “loose parts” in the environment, seeing in them numerous possibilities, and making up their own rules for how the world works — a stick becomes a sword; dirt clods become grenades; the driveway becomes lava.
In contrast, the toys given children these days have a preset and very explicit built-in function. It seems that for toymakers (and their parental customers) “fun” is not a sufficient purpose for a toy; instead they consistently tout their playthings’ educational qualities.
The result of this emphasis on structured, educationally-focused play is a generation of young people who are like my kids: capable of smart thinking, but only along narrow lines.
Babies and little children start life not only strapped into car seats, but fastened into high chairs for feeding, wedged into infant armchairs for watching TV, and buckled into strollers for walks and jogs around the neighborhood.
Some of this “containerizing” is necessary for safety, but it’s also making children much more sedentary. According to one study which tracked the movement of toddlers, the average 3-year-old is active for a minuscule 20 minutes a day!
As children get older, their container gets larger, but not by much; parents, who prefer the safety of the great indoors to the risk outside, functionally keep their kids under “house arrest.” Some research has shown that less than a third of American children play outside on a daily basis, while another survey found that 1 in 2 kids worldwide play outside for less than an hour a day — less time, it might be pointed out, than inmates spend outside at maximum security prisons.
The rise in containerizing children, whether in buckled seats or relatively spacious homes, has thus unsurprisingly paralleled a rise in childhood obesity, which has more than tripled since the 1970s.
Because modern children are under near constant adult supervision, when they have a problem, there is always a grownup there to ask for advice on what to do. Even on those rare occasions where a kid finds himself alone, both he and his parents remain connected via their respective cell phones;
If kids outsource all of their decision-making to parents and other authority figures, they’ll have difficulty learning to think for themselves; when they do make their own choices, they’ll be prone to second-guessing and self-doubt — even to a kind of “learned helplessness” where they don’t feel in control of their lives.
Parents hover so closely, and offer their advice so readily, because they understandably want to save their children from the pain of failure. They may worry that a scary or painful experience will make their children more skittish about risks in the future. Certainly, a very traumatic experience can scar a kid for life, but failures that fall short of that — as the vast majority do — actually have the very opposite effect.
Even when the risk a child takes has a negative result, they find that the consequence was really not so bad. When a kid falls off his bike and scrapes his knee, he learns that it hurts, but not for long. Time heals all wounds and some wounds don’t need much time to heal. Consequently, he gets back on the bike with a knowledge that scraped knees are no big deal and not something to excessively fear. He becomes inoculated against future anxiety in this area, and becomes a more resilient kid.
In the absence of these kinds of firsthand experiences with risks — and this goes not only for the physical kind, but financial, academic, emotional, and social too — fears can begin to loom ever larger in the imagination, until they become paralyzing phobias. Without exposure to the minor bumps, scrapes, and setbacks that come with taking risks, children don’t become habituated to them and learn the coping mechanisms necessary to confidently and rationally assess and manage risk. They lose the ability to distinguish the dangerous from that which is simply unfamiliar. They fail to gain a deep, intrinsic understanding of just how powerful their potential for resilience really is.
Maintaining this state of constant vigilance, living with a daily degree of anxiety, giving up their own friendships and hobbies to invest all their free time in childrearing, has turned parenting into a labor-intensive, energy-sapping grind. It’s no wonder most parents feel they can only handle one or two children, or decide not to have any at all; family life no longer entices, as it seemingly involves shackling yourself 24/7 to your kids.
Read more insights from “The Risks of NOT Letting Your Kids Do Risky Things“.
In fact, you’d do well to see the rest of the series which covers the origins of over protective parenting, whether the world is a more dangerous place now and how to go from safeguarding our kids from risk to teaching them how to grapple with risk. Even if you’re not a parent, it’s worth reflecting on what they teach us about God’s parenting of us.
Love and parenting is risky. But it is this very risk which creates the grit of character and the height of vision required for greatness. And exactly why God risks it. To do the opposite is to get the opposite.