My nine year old daughter squealed with delight as the wind whipped through her hair. We were probably going about 35 miles an hour down a steep downhill. Her eight year old sister, the quieter of the two, looked up with a similar sense of glee. We weren’t on a roller coaster or a mountain bike; my kids were standing up in the back of a pick- up truck! Before you cast aspersions at my irresponsible parenting, know that we were riding on public transportation, or what passes for public transportation in Guatemala. My six person family shared the back of the pick-up with 16 others and my kids were actually in the safer positions. The vehicle was so overcrowded that people were hanging off both the back and sides. This was the only alternative to walking the nine miles to town and at 65 cents per person the price was fair. Cheap compared to the fifty dollars it would cost to ride Harry Potter at Disney! From my kid’s perspective, they now wish the crowded pick-up could replace the family mini-van as their daily transportation to school!
Traveling in Guatemala as a family was the eye opening experience that we had intended for our kids. We called it a field trip, not a vacation. For them to be approached by even younger children selling trinkets in the streets in order to put food on the family table was entry into a world far different from theirs. They were surprised to see seven year olds working, carrying 30 pound bundles of firewood on their backs along the side of the road; or five year olds with their own shoe-shine business.
I certainly came home with the conclusion that my kids were even more overprotected than I had thought. A recent Wall Street Journal article written by Lorene Skenazy, founder of Free Range Kids asks “If age ten in America is now the new two?” Compared to life in a Guatemalan village, it certainly is. To go from a world where simple balloons carry warnings that they should only be used under parent supervision for those under the age of 14 to a world where five year olds roam freely, obliviously ignorant of the US State Department warnings about every possible threat from carjacking to kidnapping to imminent earthquake, was eye opening.
Can our kids live a full life in a bubble wrapped world? Parenting in the 21st century is more challenging than it’s ever been. Consequences from a single misstep can have a lifetime of consequences and the media insures that we hear about every potential misstep every second of every day. But what do our kids miss when we remove all risk from the equation? For all of us parents, who keep the safety of our kids first and foremost, it’s a giant balancing act. How do we as parents give our kids experiences, teach them to assess risk, and to discern between reasonable and unreasonable risk? How do we train them to make good decisions as they navigate an increasingly challenging, difficult and competitive world?
I wish I had all the answers; hopefully a summer at Adventure Treks helps… it gives a teenager independence, challenge, the ability to try some “risky” activities and the opportunity to learn to assess risk, but with a great role model looking over their shoulders and adding both input and veto power.
Letting go in a scary world can be tough; giving our kids the tools to make sound decisions is our only defense. There are consequences to both over parenting and under parenting. Parenting is quite a ride, isn’t it?