Wednesday, April 9, 2014

On the Beauty and Danger of Risk

So last week, I went to Grinnell College for a symposium of people in the publishing/screenwriting industry and how we figured out our way into the business after graduating. Great people, lots of great talks. Lots of great questions. On my way home, I swung through Zion for the BAM Festival at Zion-Benton Library. And because there was dessert served at my speech, lots of teenagers came. :)

But one thing that came up in both these venues was the question of risk. Are we raising a nation of people who are risk-averse and what does that mean for the future?

So risk is a tricky thing. While I absolutely believe in risking failure, in screwing up and getting back up to try again, there's also a part of me that delineates this kind of risk with the kind of risk that involves sending my children out into the world unprotected.

Because the reality is, as much as I want my children to go out into the world and fail and learn and mess up and get caught and experience consequences, I do not in any way want my children to have to go through what I did to get where I am today.

And I'm not sure how to marry these two instincts of mine beyond writing about it. Easing them into horrible things through story telling. Because as much as I want to be a "free-range parent", after the fourth "attempted abduction" notification from my kids' school, I decided to always drive them. It's a dumb thing really. It's not like the safety of my mini-van can protect them from anything, not really, but it's something I can control. In a world where I have very little control over what my kids are exposed to, I can drive them to school.

And this is what parents do, I think. Our instinct is always to shield, even when we know it won't do anything, even when we understand how little we control. And I think it's maybe okay to shield. I think "free-range parenting" is generally practiced by people who have never been abducted, who have never dealt with driveby shootings in their neighborhood, who have a utopian experience. And I'm grateful for that experience and for them, but it's not the only one.

The minute we get into a solid position of "this is right" is the moment I want to shake my head and point out nuance and discussion and how everything is way more interesting for ALL the different experiences. There are multiple sides to everything.

So yes, I would like my kids to experience the reality of  sexual violence through books instead of life, and I would also like them to get an F in school and have to deal with that. I think we can have both. I think we as parents are constantly navigating this. I think we as writers are constantly exploring it. Can we protect our kids? And how far are we willing to go to do so?

It's a slippery slope, protection. But I don't think there's an either/or scenario here. I think everything is a choice. I choose to drive my kids to school, but I also choose to let them read generally what they want. I choose to limit screen time, but I let them play outside without me hovering to watch.


Jolene Perry said...

I read this article not long ago about how our kids are growing up in a world with so much more supervision than they used to have.
My dad talks about how he'd come home from his friends' houses in the afternoons, and his mom would say - nope. not yet. go find something to do for another hour or two - and send him off.
I think about how many miles I'd ride my bike at the age of 10, and how there's NO WAY I'd let my daughter do the same.
Is our world that different? Or our perspective?
I'm not sure.
All I know is that my husband's job has warped me to the point that I really hope I don't steal too much independence from my kiddos.

M.J. Fifield said...

The other day, my sister and I were talking about how different our upbringing was from my 10 year old niece's. For example, we took the school bus every day and walked on our own to the end of the road to meet the bus. Now my mother drives my niece to school, and when I pick her up, I have to have a photo i.d. and a PhD in engineering or something to figure out how to even get into the school.

And sometimes, that seems unreal to me. But then, when I was in school, we never had to have lockdown drills because some jackass threatened to shoot up a school.

Suzi said...

I'd never heard of this free-range parenting thing. That's interesting. I think I feel comfortable right in between that and helicopter parenting.

I want my kids to be able to go out and have fun with other kids/be independent. And I don't want them to become anxious because they're so scared about something bad happening.

I want them to be nice to strangers and people in general. But I don't want them to go off with a stranger cause that person seems nice.

It's hard balancing act.

Stephsco said...

My teacher friends confirm that parents are shielding, or trying, to shield them from everything. Bad grades, their own behavioral consequences...