To Young To Endure! Are Modern Values Stunting Our Growth?

I’ve been diving in to Game Of Thrones the past month or so. An Epic tale of the struggle for land and power mixed in with heroism, evil and all the ups and downs of human existence. In stories like this you read about young princesses being married off to spawn children at 13 and 15-year-old Lords leading armies to battle.

In the times before the advent of modern medicine and even now in less developed parts of the world it was / is commonplace to see children at work, assuming adult responsibilities, fighting, hunting and enduring all sorts of physical and emotional stress.

But in today’s modern world we seem to shelter our children as much as possible from strenuous activity and adult responsibility. And when we do allow them to compete, we still seem stuck in the era of the “participation trophy” – where everyone gets a prize.

I started pondering all this when I started reading the cover article in yesterday’s Sunday NYTimes sports section, about a ten and eleven year old who were competing in a championship endurance race.  You can read the article here:

I suppose my big question is this:  how much protection is too much protection?  It stands to reason that kids are pretty resilient – and physically so more than anything.  They are naturally fearless and committed to learning and growth and self improvement.  By being protective over them and not allowing them to experience the pressures of athleticism and hard work are we doing them and future generations a disservice?   It wasn’t so long ago in the U.S. when kids would be taken out of school to help harvest crops and take care of family farms and businesses.  Granted, as we continue to make it easier and easier to meet our basic subsistence needs, the role of the child as part of the family has shifted.

But I look at the demographic trends of extended adolescence and see scores of twenty-somethings every year who lament their own personal progress.  It seems that those who have endured hardships or excelled competitively almost have an edge over their well protected peers.  They are more ambitious and able to cope with life’s challenges better than those who had a more sequestered or sheltered upbringing.

So I pose the question to the anthropological brains of my readers:  are we stunting our cultural growth by having a negative opinion of kids competing as adults?


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