Overprotecting Children Obstructs Learning

If you play with fire, you’re gonna get burned. Once bitten, twice shy. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. Cliché’s. They’re everywhere, but what do they really mean? We throw them around without even thinking about them most of the time. The three selected here are particularly relevant to today’s topic which is the notion that parents should not protect their children from all forms of harm because it deprives them of valuable learning experiences.

If you play with fire, you’re gonna get burned. Am I saying that we should let our children play with fire? Sort of. No, we should not let a 6-year-old play with matches, that’s ridiculous, but if we have a candle burning and the 6-year-old goes to touch it, we should warn him that he shouldn’t touch it, it’s fire and he’s going to get burned. Then, we should let him touch it if that’s what he’s going to do. We gave him fair warning. He chose to ignore it. He will learn two valuable lessons at that time: 1) Listen to your parents, they know what they’re talking about, and 2) Don’t touch fire. If we shield a child from having any experience with fire, they will not develop an appropriate fear of fire and then when they are messing around with their 14 year-old-friends who have matches, they may very well burn something up because they know nothing of the dangers of fire.

Once bitten, twice shy. Should we let our children just walk up to any stray animal and touch it? Of course not, many animals, especially outdoor animals, may have diseases, ticks or fleas. However, if a child is tormenting the family dog and you see the dog approaching the end of his patience, warn the child that if he keeps aggravating the dog, the dog will probably bite him. Then let the child do what he’s going to do. If the dog actually bites him, again, he’s learned two valuable lessons, the first of which is the same as above: 1) Listen to your parents, they’re telling the truth, and 2) Aggravated dogs bite. If we shield a child from that experience, they may have the opportunity to learn that with a much less friendly dog who won’t just give them a “leave me alone” bite, but rather, a dog that might very seriously hurt them.

Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. Should we just let the whole world take advantage of our children? Of course not, but when they see the salesman hawking some fantastic item that you know is pure garbage that will fall apart in 10 minutes, what’s the harm in letting them buy it, with their own money, after you have tried to warn them that it is just a piece of junk? There is no harm in it. If they buy it and it falls apart, they will learn another two lessons, 1) Really, your parents aren’t kidding, listen to them, and 2) Examine things carefully before buying them. If they do not learn this lesson early enough, they are very likely to learn it first when they plunk down $2000 on car that will only run for a month before becoming completely useless.

If your child learns a number of lessons this way prior to the age of 12, they will really have the picture that the stuff you say is true and that they do much better when they follow your advice. Then, when it comes time to tell them to use condoms or someone might get pregnant, they may actually listen to you rather than have to put that one to the test themselves. Therefore, it is important to let your child go through a number of annoying, mildly painful, and uncomfortable learning experiences rather than trying to shield them from all of life’s unpleasantries. They need these experiences to learn and protecting them deprives them of important learning experiences.

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