Facing your fears, the hard way

October 3, 2013 

I can’t help but wonder if we are being too protective of our children.

When I was a child, I freely roamed the neighborhood until the streetlights came on in the evening. If that means my parents were neglectful, then the other 10 kids I played with were being cared for by adults similarly lacking in parenting skills.

I guess part of our vigilance toward our children today is due to stories of abductions and accounts of abuse that are more widely reported than decades ago. But I think, as a whole, we struggle with a balance between protection and smothering, especially when it comes to building the emotional maturity of our offspring.

This is particularly evident in sports.

I don’t want to be one of those guys who says “Back in my day...,” but back in my day, I remember shaking in my boots as Glenn Gunderman, a man-child of 10 in the Huck Finn Little League, threw flaming darts while I was at bat. Parents and players alike marveled at this fireball-tossing beast.

There would be no marveling and awe today.

Parents would look at the thin, plastic-shelled helmet and remove their child from the possibility of harm. Players would dawdle around the batter’s box hoping Mom or Dad would step in before ever having the chance to be struck out. But we wanted to face Gunderman. There was no downside. If you struck out, it was expected. But if you got a hit, you were the toast of the town the next day. People would come up in the cafeteria and pat you on the back. The fourth-graders looked at you as if Babe Ruth was breaking bread with them.

Years later, the story of how you came to bat amid the catcalls of “Swing batter, batter” and broke a 3-3 tie in the bottom of the sixth inning by hitting a mammoth home run would become a staple of family dinners. But today, the kids telling that story have to get really creative because almost all leagues have banned chatter, presumably to keep the pitcher from going home and crying all night about having a rubber arm.

Competition and conquering fears force each person to face situations every day. If children are told by their parents that it is too unsafe to face a peer, how will they handle confrontations when Mom and Dad aren’t around? If they never face a difficult obstacle, how will they overcome that first failed job or the first failed relationship?

We probably all have a story we remember from our youth that we look at as a defining moment for growth. Mine was facing Glenn Gunderman. One foul ball led to a base hit and I wasn’t scared anymore. A few years later, I hit a home run. If I were growing up today, I might not even have the chance to conquer the Mighty Gunderman. There would be no base hit, nor home run.

But I would be safe and protected – and without a story to pass along.

You can reach Scott at costanalysiscolumn@gmail.com to call out “Swwwwinngg!”

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