What do a children's psychologist and premiership football manager have in common? Well over this weekend, it seems quite a lot. The broadsheets published Professor Tanya Byron's concern that this generation of children is growing up within the cotton wool of the home, being deprived of the chances to take risks in the real outside world. And, Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal FC manager lauded his side's 'resilience' in the 2-0 win over Liverpool on Saturday. In particular he cited his youngsters, players like Ramsay who have struggled for selection at times, but showed a 'willingness to take risks and the bravery to fail.'
This is the current conundrum for parents and schools: we are concerned about the welfare and safety of our children, but if they stay in the home they don't get the chance to make mistakes and don't get the chance to learn from them. More significantly, we actually push them towards the current parental and teacher phobia of the internet, social networking and solitary on-line gaming. Surely, we need to step back and have a careful look at what we are doing here?
Of course we don't want our children to come to harm, but there must be a balance: they must be allowed, as Professor Byron says, to play outside, 'cycle round the park' and 'run in the woods.' In much the same way, we need to find a pathway through the ever-changing internet world- it will not go away and we need to recognise this. Shaking our heads and condemning it won't do- if we remember our youth, it will only make it all the more appealing.
What can we do? Schools and families can foster an environment in which some degree of risk taking can take place in the real world and the technological world. We can have better, non judgemental, dialogue with our children and we have to accept that dangers will remain, as they always have in their lives. But regardless of the latest medium or risky activity, certain aspects of helping children grow into decent people remain: show them trust; have a relationship that allows honest discussion at home; instil the same traditional core values in them that we believe to be right and develop their sense of self esteem and personal confidence. We cannot and never will protect them from all the world's risks, but we can give them the strength to admit mistakes and create an environment in which they can learn from these errors. No matter what we say at home or in the classroom, in our teenagers' eyes it will remain theoretical; nothing teaches like getting things wrong for yourself!