Should children be sheltered?

We are all of different opinions as to   what constitutes over-protection, sheltering or ‘smothering’ instead of mothering. Children and parents even have this difference of opinion.

Mother: “Put on a sweater, it’s cold out.”

Child: “I don’t want to. I’ll sweat.”

At the time of this conversation it was winter.  In Germany.  It was cold out.

The perception of sheltering is dependent of the view of each person. Many parents feel that it is their responsibility to shelter the child from the excesses of the ‘real’ world and filter the cultural pollution. It would be considered neglect to take a child to the beach and allow her to be subjected to the effects of sun and wind without protection, to allow her to explore the waves without cautions or supervision, or to drop her off at a tender age and, if there were less than twenty-five people on the beach, to leave her only under the gaze of the lifeguard. Yet this is a rough model of how children are expected to be educated.

The ‘sun light’ of school may be too bright, the ‘wind’ of school may blow too strongly and the ‘waves’ of school may buffet to the point of fatigue; five days a week of ‘beach.’

But in modern life ‘beach’ is normal and staying home from the ‘beach’ is not. So all the children go to the ‘beach’ and remain there for the required number of hours, day after day, week after week, for over a decade. At the end of their ‘beach’ time they are less themselves and more of the ‘beach.’ The sun, the wind and the waves have worn down the edges of their selves and like beach glass they are tumbled into roughly the same shapes.

The changes in standards make it more difficult to know what is or is not acceptable information for children. Compounding that difficulty is the modern ease of information transmission.

Instant information-transmission is the sun, wind and waves of popular culture, and the ‘information’ can be anything. The ‘information’ is dispensed everywhere and everytime. This is perfectly normal and military people always have some of their ‘edges’ reshaped by whatever culture they find themselves in. Military adults, though, can weigh the appropriateness of the ‘information’ and, after weighing it against their needs, comforts and past experiences, accept or reject it. Children are more vulnerable and malleable with fewer experiences against which to contrast the cultural ‘information.’

Not only is cultural information more easily transmitted than it was in times past but standards quickly change without much reflection about unintended consequences. In the past, more information was passed to children in person-to-person form, more often within their families or near family members who could rule on the appropriateness of the information. Today with ubiquitous audio, video and photographic information transmitted without pause there is no way, short of earplugs and blindfolds, to completely block the reception of unwanted ‘noise.’

When information was transmitted either in person or through print, childhood was more easily protected. An adult reading aloud could refrain from reading words that were deemed unsuitable, and children had to learn to read if they wanted to know those words themselves. After the development of the photographic process and the subsequent improvement of the technology so that the images moved and spoke, Information was added. Anyone who watched the images, or heard the words, received the information.

After the change in how information is transmitted, an ‘in person’ style of information transmission was no longer necessary.  Person A did not need to speak to Child B; Child B did not need to witness an event; or Child B did not need to have attained the age, sophistication, and literacy so he could read about the item in question. Print communication was an effective filter because of the sophistication necessary to understand many words.

With the rise of easily reproduced graphic images, anyone can absorb information, understood or not, about innumerable facets of the world. Via a photograph, anyone with sight can see a representation of zebras, the Horsehead nebula, jellyfish, a cozy hearth, an execution or a sexual act. This information can be anywhere.

Copyright 2006, 2008 Valerie Bonham Moon

This work may be copied and distributed for free as long as the copyright and this notice are included.

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