Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Caged Babies and Playground Interaction: A Word to the Overprotective

I was taking my daily walk through the once populated now abandoned by adolescent cyber- playground due to adult infestation (Facebook) and came across a link to one of those "Crazy Picture" websites.  I find it hard to avoid these types of links.  While providing humorous material for youth talks, a good picture can also create wonderful opportunities for conversation.  Today's picture discovery was quickly followed by a "come and see this picture" shout to surrounding offices (yes, we have an intercom system but shouting is a lot more dramatic).  Ladies and Gentlemen, the picture.

The caption informed viewers this ca. 1937 picture is of an invention designed to give apartment dwellers a way for their babies to get "fresh air." What?  Certainly a display of American ingenuity, but frightening all the same (Why did the media give Michael Jackson a hard time when he showed the world his baby again? Sorry-I could not resist).  After the initial shock and humor, the conversation and reflection drifted to a deep place.  Perhaps the picture could be viewed as a metaphor of how adults often interact with today's teenage population.  As a parent, youth worker, coach and frequent "hanger-outer" with students the connection is personal, professional, glaring and simple to make.  Certainly from a pure motivation to shelter and protect, adults may place students in cages that offer the appearance of security and safety but can lead to opposite outcomes.

Consider the contraption holding this hefty lad.  Over time, the elements and time will weaken the structure making it unsafe to occupy. What happens then?  You buy a new structure and/or reinforce the existing structure?  What happens when the baby is no longer a baby?  Do you build bigger structures?   Eventually, instead of looking at the playground from a lofty height, the child will be taken to the park, given appropriate boundaries and eventually, over time, "earn" freedom from a caged existence through the dance of negotiation and consequence giving.  The dance from cage to freedom is different for every student, parent/guardian relationship.  Even so, it is a dance that must take place.  Why?  The greatest of cages, constructed from the most noble of intent, can not hold our students forever.  Christian Smith with others have studied students and emerging adults (18-25 year olds) for well over a decade.  Their research indicates that students raised in environments where most moral decisions are made for them (i.e they live in incredibly protective cages) actually DO NOT fair well morally when leaving home (cage) for the first time (see Souls In Transition and Lost in Transition).  They do not know how to play in the park without getting hurt.

So, to answer the question, do you build bigger cages when your baby is no longer a baby?  No!  You teach them how to interact on the playground.  Again, as a parent, youth worker, coach and frequent "hanger-outer" with students, I totally understand cage building (I have built some pretty good ones).  Even so, our job as adults in the life of students is to join them in the dance of negotiation and consequences so they will be able to fully function in the world outside the cage.

This would be a great place to insert a list of Best Out of the Cage Practices, but not today.  Instead, as we reflect on the picture, let's ask ourselves these questions:

  • What cages are you building around your student(s) that are hindering playground interaction development?
  • Would your student(s) survive on the playground? Why or Why not?

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