Some time ago, a family in New Zealand was told that the days of children playing in parks safely had gone. The psychologist and author, Nigel Latta, responded by writing:
Newsflash: those days never existed. It has never been safe for children to play in parks. Ever. Here is just a small list of some of the hazards that children playing alone in parks have always faced: falling, slipping, general unsteadiness, mean kids, sticks, stones, name calling, broken bottles, ant bites, bee stings, plane crashes, sitting in chewing gum, bird pooh to the head, prickles in the grass, dog bites, little kid bites, scratches from stray kittens, meteor strikes, crazed gunmen, religious cults, being kissed by politicians, abduction by organ traffickers, muddy shoes, swine flu…
The business of raising children is really about running the numbers. Is it possible that your children could be abducted from a park? Yes. Is it likely? No. Is it more likely now than it was when we were children? No. Is it possible they could fall off something? Yes. Does gravity work the same as it did when we were children? Yes. Do wounds heal and bones mend much the same as they always have? Again, yes.
Latta N (2009). Confessions of a bad parent. Listener. July 18, P16-22
Schools must act as a bridge between the home, where acceptance is unconditional; and the hard edges of the real world where acceptance is provisional. For this reason it is important that our children experience challenge and perhaps even failure in our schools. As Benjamin Franklin once stated, “Those things that hurt can instruct”. A teenager needs to know discomfort, to experience trials and to accept the tests that life will inevitably bring.
Good schools will devote themselves not just to the task of preparing their students for exams, they will prepare their students for life, and life brings with it a requirement to operate in an environment which only grudgingly gives good grades. It is necessary for a child to experience an audience that will only clap if it is deserved. It is important for a child to be told they are behaving like an idiot, particularly if they are behaving like an idiot.
A school must offer warmth, encouragement and security. Its teachers must be kind and they must be honest. Those two qualities do not always sit well together, for there will be times when a teacher must bruise a child’s presumptions by suggesting he has imperfections. There are times when a teacher must challenge assumptions of virtue. There are times when a discerning school must run the risk of damage to a child’s emerging psyche by not selecting them to play in the 1st XI or making them a Prefect.