Headmaster tells parents to give their children space

Family|November 21st 2012

Are parents far too protective of their children these days? Talk to people in their 60s and 70s about their experiences growing up and you will hear tales of being turfed out of the house in the mornings and being told to go ride their bikes and play with their friends till teatime – by parents who had better things to do than watch their kids every minute of the day.

Nowadays we have the phenomenon of ‘cotton wool kids’ in which risk-phobic parents drive their children to school and home again every day and keep them closeted indoors for much of their lives. According to a survey by Play England earlier this year, one in five children is never allowed out to play at all, a third have never climbed a tree and one in tern cannot ride a bike!

No wonder we hear regular reports of skyrocketing childhood obesity rates!

Three cheers, then, for headmaster Christian Heinrich, chairman of the Boarding Schools Association, who has called on over-protective parents to give their children more space.

According to a report in the Telegraph, Mr Heinrich, who is headmaster of Cumnor House Preparatory School in Croydon, told a headmasters’ conference:

“My time in teaching has coincided with the rise and recognition of so-called pushy parents, of parents keeping their children wrapped in cotton wool and of the wonderful image of helicopter parents. What I now hope for is the rise of the C. Day Lewis generation. The poet laureate… wrote a poem ‘Walking Away’ about his son’s first day at school that should touch the soul of all parents and teachers of young boarders. He set out the territory for those parents who see the wisdom of ‘letting go’ at the point when the child is ready.”

‘Helicopter parents’ are those Mums and Dads who are forever hovering in the background as their children grow up and go to school, ready to intervene at a moment’s notice.

Mr Heinrich’s vision of childhood is one in which parents give their offspring the space to “make their own successes and mistakes as they mature.”

Children need, he says, “ a mix of nurturing and pushing and of boundaries and freedom”.

How wise! There is clearly a point in which the rational fears of many modern parents – for example, traffic – can spill over into the neurotic, with anxieties, for example, about ‘stranger danger’. In fact, abduction by strangers is just as rare in the 21st Century as it was when those pensioners in the 60s and 70s were out playing in the park all day.

Parents who are forever ready to intervene never give their children the chance to learn to learn from their own mistakes. The temptation to protect them from ever making a mistake is often overwhelming, though. I do remember being embarrassingly banned from the touchline at my son’s school when he used to play rugby – I was forever shouting “Keep away from the ball!”

Knowing how to handle risks is a very important part of becoming an adult. My son learned that lesson, but I’m not so sure I have. The very first thing I did on arrival in London last night…was do his washing….!

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  1. Doug Young says:

    Is Mr Heinrich a satirist? Boarding schools put kids in an ultra-controlled rule-ridden environment where the behaviour and actual geographical position of students are severely policed and he’s suggesting that modern parents don’t give their kids enough space!!!???
    And as far as ‘nurturing’ goes… only in Britain can it be commonly held that boarding schools are better at nurturing than parents.

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