By Joanie Connell
I drop my daughter off daily at middle school by driving into the parking lot, pulling up to the curb next to the school and popping the trunk. She hops out, goes around back, gets her backpack and closes the trunk. I drive off. It takes less than a minute.
This summer, my daughter is attending a camp at her school that is run by a different organization. We drove in the first day and were abruptly stopped by a hysterical person who was waving her arms and telling us we had to pull up into a lane behind other stopped cars. No problem. We pulled up and my daughter opened the door to get out. The person came running over, frantically, shouting at her to get back into the car. She informed us that we had to wait for a camp counselor to open the door for her. Kids weren’t allowed to open the car doors. Long story short, we waited for another 10 minutes for the lines of cars to pull up to the counselors (in an orderly fashion) and have a counselor open and close the door for each child.
Pick up was even slower. I asked (in as polite a way as I could possibly muster up) why they had crippled a perfectly functioning drop off and pick up system for the summer camp. The director of the drop off said it was because they had kids as young as second graders attending camp. “Of course,” I conceded. “It’s not only middle schoolers.” “But wait,” I thought, “second graders are 7-8 years old. Since when can 7- and 8-year-olds not open car doors?” Is this what our society has come to? If 7- and 8-year-olds can no longer open car doors on their own, haven’t we failed miserably as caregivers?
The complete irony here is that this camp is for “academically talented” kids. Don’t get me wrong, I love the camp. It is a fantastic camp. And it’s not the only camp that is developmentally delaying children. My daughter went to a YMCA camp last year and had to hold onto a rope when she got out of the car. It was like preschool all over again. It seems that it’s not just “academically talented” kids who are incapable. At least, that’s what the adults think. The kids are actually very smart. You should see them trying not to hold onto the rope, being as sly as they can to make it look like they’re holding onto it for the counselors’ sake, but really not holding onto it for their own dignity’s sake. They know they don’t need to be treated this way. Why don’t we?
More importantly, who will our children turn out to be? How well will they be able to take care of themselves as adults? How much initiative will they take as employees? How many risks will they take as entrepreneurs? How strongly will they stand up in political negotiations as leaders of our nation? How well equipped will they be as caregivers of aging parents and their own children?
We think we are helping our kids by protecting them, but we are disempowering them in the process. You know what I mean; this is not just about opening car doors. The more we protect children, the less they are able to grow and take care of themselves. The more we instill fear and helplessness into our children, the more scared and helpless they become. Are those the qualities we want to instill in our future generation of leaders? Now that’s a scary thought!