Nobody is saying hooray for the pandemic. But at Let Grow, we are witnessing an amazing phenomenon that is going underreported – perhaps even unnoticed.
The uncoddling of the American kid.
Children have always been far more competent than our culture gave them credit for. They never needed all those trophies. They needed responsibility, respect and some free, unstructured time. Now that they’ve got those – wow.
We are hearing of kids across the country helping their parents, taking charge of their homework, riding their bikes (some for the first time!) and babysitting. They’re learning to play the guitar, clean the shower and cook. My God, are they cooking!
It’s not every kid every day making a great leap forward. But sprung from the backseat of the minivan, many are starting to grow up.
How is that happening? It has to do with tempering. As Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of “The Black Swan,” has been explaining for years: Some things are fragile, like a wineglass. Drop them and they shatter.
Some things are resilient, like a rubber ball. Drop them and they bounce back, no worse for the wear – but no better either.
And then there are things that are ANTI-fragile. They actually need a little stress to develop properly. For instance, as we are all relearning lately: The immune system needs to fight germs to develop antibodies and become stronger. Bones need resistance to grow dense (which is why, even when you’re stuck inside, you should try to do some exercise). (I need reminding, too.)
But children? They are the ultimate in anti-fragility. When they’re never challenged to think for themselves, solve a spat or deal with hurt – thanks to adults always “helping” them – they don’t get the chance to grow strong. They are fragile.
Prepandemic, kids were getting so used to being overprotected they didn’t even notice it was weird. I’ve met middle schoolers who’d never been allowed to walk the dog or ride their bike to a friend’s house. Middle schoolers who’d never used a sharp knife. They’d been helped so much it was actually hurting them. Anxiety and depression have been spiking in young people’s lives – and understandably so. Being treated like a baby when you’re 8 – or 12 or 15 – is depressing.
That’s why at Let Grow, our goal has always been to make children recognize how capable and confident they can be. This horrible pandemic gives us a (hopefully) once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see how much kids grow when they are finally faced with a day so empty of planned activities and so full of hours that they have only two choices: be really bored or start doing something on their own that kind of interests them. Even with Mom and Dad nearby, this still may be the freest many American children have ever been in their lives.
We’ve been running a contest for kids 5 to 17, asking them to show us what new things they’ve started doing on their own, just for fun to help the family out. I have never seen so many kids mowing the lawn, climbing trees – and looking pretty satisfied.
The quarantine stinks, and COVID-19 is worse. But seeing kids blossom is a breath of spring in a severely dreary April.