When I was 10 years old, my parents put me on a train – with 4 other 10 to 12 year old boys including my friend Kurt – headed for Denver, Colorado. We were going to a camp in Estes Park. Skyline Ranch. The five of us were alone. No adult supervision. My father admonished “don’t get off the train ’til Denver.” That was it.
Once there, every day, I rode horses, shot BB guns, hiked, swam and shoveled sand. Yes – sand. After winning a junior rodeo, I was given the task with Marvin B. (also 10) of rounding up the horses each morning. We had to rise at 5:30 a.m., walk out past the corral, fence off a dirt road and walk into a high plains pasture of several hundred acres. There were cows, horses and a bull. “Flap your poncho at the bull if he charges you” was our advice. So two 10 year old boys headed off alone on foot into the high grass, looking for horses in the gray mist of dawn.
The cows paid us little mind. The bull mercifully stayed away (“it’s those punks“). When the dozen or so horses would see us, they would cock their ears back (“danger”) then forward (“huh”?) then normal (“oh it’s them“) and begin galloping past us toward the corral. They knew we would feed them. So we hiked the mile or so back to the corral with a weather eye on the bull – who kept a weather eye on us. All the horses – Arab, Bubbles, Dakota, Eagle, Indian and the others – would be standing at parade rest in the corral. Marvin and I would put 2 cups of oats in each feed bag and slip it over their ears. Then we’d lead them (“come on Bubbles“) to the fence, tether and saddle them. No adults were even around.
It seems that kids today have a little tougher time developing independence. You don’t need to do it on a ranch – at dawn. With a 900 pound bull giving you the evil eye. But I believe there have to be challenges for kids to face or they will have trouble as adults. Today, we move in the direction of no grades (“oooh – it can damage ego“), helmets for everything, no playing tag (“too rough“), no dodge ball (“too violent“), no pointing your finger like a gun (“eeek!”), teachers cannot raise their voice at or touch a child (“don’t you dare raise your voice to my little Dwarfus”), and of course no – often deserved – corporal punishment (see posts of 11/23/11 and 2/1/12). It’s one thing to protect. It’s quite another to insulate. As I see it, insulating kids from developing independence and resourcefulness has negative result in the long run.