Thursday, September 5, 2013

Helping Kids Grow Up

This week, for the Kid Lit Blog Hop, I'm tackling Part II of the discussion I started last week on Middle Grade Fiction and how authors give kids room for autonomy.  We can see the reasons kids in those books often have no parents, or are somehow separated from parents (everywhere from Harry Potter and Lemony Snicket to Gary Paulson and classic tales like the Narnia books or even Huck Finn).  And while the level of adulthood to which those kids rise is sometimes unbelievable, and the stresses put on them obviously not what we want for our kids, I can't help looking at them and thinking about the level of self-sufficiency my own kids have (or don't have).

We live in a world (at least here in the US of A) where kids are more and more protected, and less and less allowed to wander freely and discover the world on their own.  I grew up in a time and place where from a pretty young age (when we were all three pre-teens) my brothers and I were allowed to wander on our own.  But that was mostly in the woods, not in the city (we never lived in anything like a city, or even much of a town).  We learned to do stuff, both fun stuff outdoors and, because both my parents worked (at least part of the time), we learned to do stuff at home--like cook.  Being poor may have helped--we had responsibilities that mattered, unlike the heavy consequences of my boys forgetting to take out the trash or fold the laundry.  (Of course, if they don't learn a little more cooking in the next few years, they'll find that there are unhappy consequences to that ignorance).

We've done our best to give our kids the freedom to do what we did as kids, but now we live in the city (more of an urban suburb, really), and while I don't worry too much about safety, frankly the place just isn't as interesting as the forests and beaches my brothers and I explored.  So I can give them freedom, but will they take it?

And what about the bigger challenge: teaching our kids to be more self-sufficient, encouraging them to learn the skills they need to get by on their own?  Short of dumping them out of a crashed plane in the middle of the Canadian North (Hatchet), how do we get them to take responsibility?

And do we think that reading about kids who are very capable and independent helps our kids to think about becoming that way themselves?  I'm pretty sure it did for me.

So what do you do to make sure your kids develop at least a small part of the self-sufficiency of the Pevensies or the Famous Five?  Not to mention Laura Ingalls Wilder or Gary Paulson's heroes?




9 comments:

  1. Well, I was lucky enough to be able to roam around pretty unhindered from ages 6-11. I think giving kids the idea that it is possible to think for yourself, solve problems etc without being told what to do is important. It seems to me that far too many leave all the thinking to their parents.

    But then, I'm old-fashioned ;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jemima, I think we are both old-fashioned (or old. Naw, not that!). I agree that kids need to be led to believe they can decide things for themselves--and in most of the kind of books I'm thinking about, decisions have consequences, so they are also learning to think it through and decide well. Nowdays it seems like too often the only place kids feel they have autonomy is in a decision to break the rules.

      And I was another who wandered a lot as a kid. I also had a job from about age 12. I think my kids are seriously shorted in the responsibility department.

      Delete
  2. We live in a small, relatively safe town, so some of the fears of larger areas aren't as looming where we live. I think rather than a physical, go do what you want, freedom, it's digging down when kids are young, teaching them good decision making skills and right from wrong, then, as they grow older, you let go little by little. I do very very little disciplining in high school-- by then my kids' values are set and they have to learn to make healthy decisions for them. It's worked out perfectly so far and I'm so blessed by not having issues, thus far.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are largely right, Julie, but I think that without a certain level of physical freedom, the kids never have a chance to test their skills. Like you, I've backed off as my boys are in high school, and they continue to make good decisions. Except in the area of wanting to learn to cook. It apparently has not yet dawned on them that anyone who likes to eat should know how to cook :D

      Delete
  3. Interesting discussion. I grew up in rural Manitoba where we wandered freely and definitely learned to be responsible. I now live in an urban area where I do tend to be quite protective. I have a very different perspective though. While we were allowed to roam freely as children, we experienced the 1 in a million chance that something bad could happen. My older brother died in an unsupervised situation (while he was roaming freely) when he was 13. So, understandably, I tend to see the risks much more than most parents and am less likely to take those chances.

    I agree with Julie though that teaching your children and giving them increasing responsibility is very important. Once kids hit adolescence we have to hope that everything we've taught them will carry them through those high-risk situations they will inevitably find themselves in.

    Thanks for linking into the Kid Lit Blog Hop. I've often had the same thoughts when reading stories with those "unsupervised" children!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Renee, that's a tough one. We had a close call at one point, and I had to fight for a long time against the urge to watch the kids every second. (Now that they're in high school, it's not an option in any case). A realistic risk-assessment is probably the most difficult thing for most parents. So the friend who wouldn't let her daughter walk two blocks to school had a problem seeing that the risk of obesity (and laziness?) was greater than the risk that her child would be kidnapped off the street, especially if equipped with the knowledge of what to do if anyone tried.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Oh, yeah--and I'm finding myself looking hard now at each MG book I read to see how the author has created a situation for the kid(s) to be independent!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Yes, I agree with you Rebecca about the risk assessment. The other thing I try to remain cognizant about is not to teach my children to fear absolutely everything. I think fear is one of the biggest problems we have in society. It's one thing to be aware and to be safe, it's another to be fearful. There is definitely a line there somewhere.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Absolutely! And, like so much with parenting, we may not know if we got it right until after the fact :p

      Delete

We want to hear from you! Tell us your reactions, or whatever's on your mind.