In the midst of this cold winter, I chanced to come upon a scene that gladdened my heart. It was a group of unsupervised boys sledding down a hillside. They weren’t only sledding. They were ramming into other sleds. At the bottom of the hill, they pushed each other down, rolling and tumbling in the snow. They threw snowballs at each other, all the while yelling and carrying on. The boys were just being boys, having a good old time in the process. I was thoroughly entertained by the spectacle, remembering scenes from my own youth.
I was also edified by what I saw because in that scene there were all sorts of lessons being taught outside the politically-correct classroom. Here were boys joyfully defying the gender police by naturally exhibiting that aggressive and manly behavior that makes them different from girls. I saw them developing and honing social skills like conflict management and alliance making. In the rough and tumble, the boys also learned that acts have consequences that sometimes hurt and require one to measure risks and avoid undue dangers. In that short episode in their exuberant lives, the boys learned about life with all its joys and sufferings.
The scene also saddened me by the fact that such scenes are becoming ever rarer. The lessons are deliberately left untaught. Boys must no longer be stereotyped as boys (even though they are boys). Thus, they cannot engage in fighting and scuffles. It is better to be tethered to electronic devices which are considered much safer than zipping down hills.
This conclusion really hit home when I read that many cities all over the country are banning sledding at public parks. It’s just too dangerous. They are also closing down the hills because of liability concerns.
Cities like Dubuque and Des Moines, Iowa; Lincoln, Nebraska; and Columbia City, Indiana now prohibit or restrict sledding on public property. In Paxton, Illinois, officials even went to the point of bulldozing down its sledding hill to keep playful children off. Many cities have been hit with multi-million dollar lawsuits from sledding accidents.
Of course, children can be injured by sledding. No one denies this fact. Children can be injured in just any kind of intense physical activity. But the likelihood that any one of the nation’s 75 million children will be injured by sledding is measured in the low hundredths of a percent, many of which will be minor incidents. Such accidents are part of growing up. It does not exclude tragic accidents which will always be with us, since no civilization has ever been able to eliminate them.
However, “dangerous” activities like sledding serve a purpose. When children are exposed to small dangers, they then know how to deal with real dangers when they confront them later on in life. They learn how to gauge the risks involved and react accordingly. They need to learn from a very early age that acts have consequences that often hurt. Parents do their children no favors when they seek to eliminate all reasonable risks from their paths. They fail to see that the innocent fun found in sledding or rough physical activities connects the child to reality and helps him deal with future problems in a natural and organic way.
The real tragedy is that today’s youth are offered a contrary program. Instead of sledding, many children are often exposed to the frenetic intemperance of alternatives that help them disconnect from reality. While other children are “dangerously” playing in the snow, they will be engaged in video games full of all sorts of violent and risky activities — that have no concrete consequences. They are free to gun down, run down, and mow down anyone in their path to gain points or advance the game. While others play unsupervised, these “safe” children will often be watching alone (and also unsupervised) movies and programs full of violence, profanity and sexual encounters – all at the click of a mouse. With such lessons being taught, should parents wonder why their children cannot deal with life’s problems?
Overprotected from the real world, these unfortunate children are immersed in an unreal world where boys cannot be boys, and girls cannot be girls. All must be safe and sterile. Every physical risk is avoided while every moral danger is embraced and marked by an intolerable tolerance. Such a world stifles wonder and spontaneity. Indeed, it is a dangerous world when Johnny cannot sled anymore.