Ask any parent what they fear the most, and the answer will almost always be if something happens to the kids. Our instincts tell us to protect them no matter what, and that is of course a good thing. Our kids are dependent on us taking good care of them. As a result there are few real dangers left in our modern society. The food we eat is relatively safe, many illnesses are eliminated, we travel safely, dangerous child labor is in the Western world more or less extinct, we have stopped smoking and now our playgrounds are soft. That, however, is not necessary a good thing.
This summer we could read in NYTimes Magazine that "Norwegian psychologists Leif Kennair and Ellen Sandseter think that modern playgrounds are for wimps. Instead of short climbing walls, there should be towering monkey bars. Instead of plastic crawl tubes, there should be tall, steep slides. And balance beams. And rope swings. The rationale is that the more we shield children from potential scrapes and sprained ankles, the more unprepared they’ll be for real risk as adults, and the less aware they’ll be of their surroundings."
In a Norwegian newspaper Sandseter explain their ideas: Kids must be allowed develop and experience to hurt themselves. Kids need to develop motorically and have physical challenges, and they are depending on learning to master risk situations. To be able to handle scary situations will make it less likely to develop phobias when they get older. We are not doing them a favor when we protect them. If kids don't learn the inborn skepticism they have towards danger they can develop anxiety as adults. They stop thinking and never assess their own risk and will blame others if accidents happen. It's healthy for kids to get hurt a little. No matter how much we secure them, they will explore and children develop when the are on the border of their own competence.
That is a lot to think about!
While it can be painful while it lasts, for both parents and children, a sprained or even broken ankle is better than having adult kids with phobias and anxiety, isn't it? So if we want the best for our kids, we need to set them loose and let them explore their own abilities. As long as they are wearing wool as base layer. That is NOT being overprotective, that is being smart!