Earlier this week, my kids’ school district announced the school would be open two hours late. The announcement had been emailed to parents late the night before so I didn’t get the notice until the morning.
Bleary eyed and desperately needing coffee, I wondered what had happened.
Was it heavy snow I’d missed while sleeping? Flooding? An electrical problem at the school? A fire? A bomb threat? Did someone die?
Nope. The reason was because because it was…cold outside. Cold.
For those not paying attention, it’s winter here in the DC region. So cold weather happens.
Indeed, it was an unusually cold week in the Washington area. Temps got into the twenties, which is unusual. And I suppose one could argue that these tempuratures are dangerous if a kid has to walk miles, Little House on the Prairie-style, to attend school. Yet, thankfully, the school district here in the suburbs of DC solved that problem decades ago by providing heated buses to ferry the kids from bus stop to school door.
As for the kids who don’t take a bus because they live close to the school, many of those kids are driven to school—even on the most temperate of days. In fact, the line to drop kids off just in front of the school doors has become so clogged, that people who live in direct proximity have to leave their driveways either before or after school begins, because they’re effectively blocked from leaving during the drop off time.
My kids walked to and from school that day, even though they begged to be driven.
It isn’t just the random cold morning that spooks school administrators. They’re even afraid to let the kids exit the school for recess. My youngest and most rambunctious son has been the most vocal about this situation. Over dinner last night, he divulged that the school won’t allow the kids to go outside when it’s cold, when there is lingering ice on the ground (usually in the gutters), or when it snows just a little. Even when the kids beg to go outside and promise they won’t touch the ice or snow, they’re told NO while being shuffled off to the heated gym.
“It’s safer,” they’re told.
My son complains about the gym, saying it’s crowded and hot and boring. He wants to get fresh air, run around on the blacktop and climb the play equipment while pretending he’s a droid shooting an imperial trooper.
Over at Reason, Lenore Skenazy explores this “safer” mentality that seems to be particular to the States. Interviewing kids who have lived overseas, these kids often have to deal with the culture shock of coming back to a safety-obsessed America, where parents worry and watch and hover far too much.
Molly, the daughter of IWF president Carrie Lukas, was interviewed for the piece and explained her own surprise at how parents in the United States are much more cautious than those in Europe (where she’s lived on and off for 10 years):
Thirteen-year-old Molly Lukas lives in Germany now, too, after stints in Belgium, Austria, and metro D.C. Her dad is in the Foreign Service. Molly loved being around her extended family when she was back in the States about a year ago, but there were some annoyances. "One time I made plans with my friend to go to Chick-fil-A. My friend's mom had to drive us and she stayed there to make sure we were OK while we were eating." In Germany, on the other hand, "I bike to school every day—it's about 10 minutes away—and I can take the bus and trains alone."
My son is about to turn 12. Like Molly, he’s given a lot of freedom to wander and explore. He’s allowed to roam the neighborhood, go to lunch on his own, go to nearby shops to browse and purchase something with his own money and he often pops into his friends’ houses unannounced (translation: I don’t text the parents that he’s coming). How sad that this is now a European style of parenting.
Lenore concludes her piece by reminding us that the United States was once known as the home of the brave. There are still many brave Americans but we need to remember that kids develop courage and bravery because they’re allowed to do things that challenge them, spook them, and require them to use their own decision making skills. If we coddle kids too much, they won’t develop into brave adults.
I'm not one to say Americans should act more like the Europeans, but when it comes to parenting, we could all learn a little from our friends across the pond.