At first glance, The Land, a Welsh “adventure” playground, seems like a modern-day parent’s worst nightmare. The Land is riddled with what looks like trash and the walls are covered in graffiti. There are kids jumping over unsteady barrels and mud puddles, and youngsters poking sticks into fires or hammering wood with (eek) sharp nails. The Land, in my opinion, is exactly what’s been missing from most childhood experiences for at least a decade now. The realm of the overprotective “helicopter” parent has been going strong for years and it’s so depressing. By “overprotective” I mean kids being banned from independent (ADULT-FREE) outside play. I’m talking about how kids are barely allowed to attend sleepovers, eat real sugar or god forbid walk to school or ride a city bus alone.
Kids today are encouraged to sit inside and stare at screens because it’s “safer” than venturing outside. Playgrounds have been dumbed down and parents are constantly spraying kids with antibacterial junk to protect them from scary germs. As someone who grew up in a much freer time and lived to tell the tale, it’s all so ridiculous. This era of helicopter parents has created a lackadaisical generation of kids who can barely climb trees, hate getting dirty and who almost never play outside. Most significantly, over-protection has resulted in kids who aren’t brave enough to head out into the world and explore on their own. Personal, independent exploration may seem like a small ideal, but when kids miss out on the chance to take risks on their own, it’s detrimental. Adventure, risks and exploration are the stuff that makes life fun, interesting and amazing. To deny kids freedom is to raise kids who will very likely choose to live a sheltered, unexplored life – is that what we want as parents? Places like The Land aim to change this life-lived-in-a-bubble dynamic.Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.
The Land is more than just a play space, it’s the focus of a documentary by the same name, directed by Erin Davis, an artist, filmmaker, radio producer and educator living in Vermont, USA. Back to “The Land” – An Adventure Play Documentary was successfully funded via Kickstarter in 2013, and is currently in the works. Dive deeper into this “free” play environment and the benefits of such a space become evident quickly. The Land encourages children to run wild, be active, use their imagination and most importantly, take risks that kids today simply don’t usually take. According to an amazing piece in The Atlantic, some playgrounds arose and became popular in the 1940s, in the UK, “As a result of the efforts of Lady Marjory Allen of Hurtwood, a landscape architect and children’s advocate.” The Atlantic notes, “Allen was disappointed by what she described in a documentary as “asphalt square” playgrounds with “a few pieces of mechanical equipment.” She wanted to design playgrounds with loose parts that kids could move around and manipulate, to create their own makeshift structures. But more importantly, she wanted to encourage a “free and permissive atmosphere” with as little adult supervision as possible. The idea was that kids should face what to them seem like “really dangerous risks” and then conquer them alone. That, she said, is what builds self-confidence and courage.”
Maybe you think places like The Land aren’t necessary, or that they are even a bad idea. Maybe you think I’m overreacting about how kids are so overly protected. However, if you think MOST parents allow their kids freedom to be independent, let me break it down for you. I manage multiple Facebook pages for parents, not to mention I post on many parenting sites and forums. On these pages and sites I’ve often posed this sort of question to parents, “At what age is it safe to let kids play alone outside?” 90% of the answers I get from parents look something like this:
- “My can kid go outside alone when he turns 14. “
- “My 16 year old can ride the city bus, so long as a parent is with her.”
- “18 years of age is a good time to let kids go off on their own.”
- “I’d NEVER let my kid go outside without an adult.”
And let’s not forget last year’s insane sleepover experience my son and I had, where parents of 12 and 13 year-old kids felt it was “too extreme” to let their kids stay the night (because that means “being out after dark”), eating candy, going outside in a big group to play basketball or watch PG-13 movies. Seriously? Kids are extremely sheltered these days. Places like The Land are a huge boon, but not the only way we can change this situation. You can let your kid take risks. You can raise your child to be independent, adventurous, and a serious world explorer. If this idea sounds overwhelming, unsafe or just plain scary, below are some ideas and links to help you become a brave parent and in turn raise a brave, self-assured child.
- Send your kid outside to play – ALONE – trust me, it’ll be ok
- Pack your kid off to a sleepover camp
- Get your kids involved with scouting
- Is it safe to let kids play outside alone?
- How Children Learn Bravery in an Age of Overprotection
- Connect your kids with nature resources
- Parents, back off and give your kids some space
- As Children’s Freedom Has Declined, So Has Their Creativity
- Go ahead and read the entire Free Range Kids blog