Friday 15 November 2019

John Daly: 'Learning from experience is lost to our kids'

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Child rides a bike on a bike path. Stock image
Child rides a bike on a bike path. Stock image

John Daly

Apologies in advance if what follows reminds you of Monty Python's "we lived in shoebox in middle of road" sketch, but can somebody tell me what the heck has happened to kids these days?

Faces permanently glued to smartphones is only half the story, as that irrepressible spirit of cheeky under-10 freedom continues to evaporate in the clutches of our desperately cautious PC world.

A lady I know who went to Tokyo for the rugby opted to explore the city by travelling in a different straight line from the hotel every day, just to see where it took her. On the subway one morning, her eye was taken by a schoolkid, around seven she reckoned, complete with blazer and bag, all on his own. A peculiar sight, so she followed him. Forty-five minutes later, after two changes on the Ginza and Hibiya train lines plus a short Toei bus ride, the kid skips through the gates of his school just in time for the 8.45am bell. Obviously, he'd repeat the journey at 3.15pm - and again, all on his own.

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Would such a feat of singular daring be possible of an Irish seven-year old in Dublin, Cork or Limerick, my friend wondered? A big 'no' we agreed, at least not without a mum, dad or guardian to warily eyeball the youngster's every move. Where's the spirit of freedom and downright nosiness that's part and parcel of being under 10 anymore? Are the streets dangerous and can bad things happen? Yes and yes. But they still have to fly the nest. A quick vox pop with my bar counter mates on the calamities sustained among us prior to age 10 threw up an ER's worth of trouble - four broken fingers (skateboards), three fractured collar bones (bikes), six black eyes (fighting), plus a multitude of drunken nutters we had to skip around on busy sidewalks.

With the benefit of adult hindsight, we all agreed that those pre-teen treks to and from school were an early form of life coaching - learning the mandates of danger, rejection, networking and friendship. The notion of being dropped off at the school gates would have been tantamount to juvenile treason - especially when our BMXs offered independence and liberation. Indeed, where does one attempt that all important first snog nowadays, we puzzled, now that 'behind the bike shed' is a territory no longer in existence?

Authors Foster Cline and Jim Fay first coined the phrase 'helicopter parenting' in their book, 'Parenting With Love and Logic'. "We have come to call them the 'jet-powered, turbo-attack mode' of helicopter parents, obsessed with a desire to create a perfect world for their kids, one in which they never have to face struggle, inconvenience, discomfort or disappointment." A recent study by Dublin City University and the GAA found children as old as 12 unable to run, jump, throw, catch or hit any type of sports ball properly due to inactivity and poor motor skills. Dr Johann Issartel, who led the study, cited electronic devices and overly cautious parents among the culprits: "Twelve year olds have not even mastered these skills which would in the past be normal for a six year old."

There's nothing wrong with showing our kids the world can be dangerous, but being over-protective can send the message that we don't think they're capable of dealing with it. James Baldwin put it best: "Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them."

A night with Bruce

Wondering what to do on this early dark first Monday of winter time? Head to your local cinema for a special one-night screening of the Bruce Springsteen movie, 'Western Stars'. Filmed in his 100-year-old New Jersey barn, it touches on many of The Boss's frequent themes - love, loss, loneliness and time's inexorable passage. In a word - beautiful.

Irish Independent

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