The Atlantic on ‘The Over-Protected Kid,’ and Homework

By Mark Walsh — March 28, 2014 2 min read
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The Atlantic likes to put education stories on its cover. Going back a year, the magazine has had cover stories on toddlers and iPads, the case against high school sports, and the dark power of college fraternities.

In the new April issue, the cover story is “The Over-Protected Kid: New research shows he’ll grow up to be more fearful and less creative.

The story by Hanna Rosin is about how “a preoccupation with safety has stripped childhood of independence, risk taking, and discovery—without making it safer.” It’s really more about American childhood than schools or education, though schools’ role in removing what came to be viewed as dangerous playground equipment is part of the story.

“It’s hard to absorb how much childhood norms have shifted in just one generation,” Rosin writes. “Actions that would have been considered paranoid in the ‘70s—walking 3rd-graders to school, forbidding your kid to play ball in the street, going down the slide with your child in your lap—are now routine.”

Playgrounds have been transformed into “sterile, boring” places, she says, “but our close attention to safety has not in fact made a tremendous difference in the number of accidents children have.”

Rosin’s lengthy piece takes a tour not only through playgrounds in several countries but through a raft of scholarly research on children and play.

“Safety paranoia” is easing up in the United Kingdom, she notes, and there are some hopeful signs that Americans are picking up on the British vibe.

The “the real cultural shift has to come from parents,” Rosin writes. “There is a big difference between avoiding major hazards and making every decision with the primary goal of optimizing child safety (or enrichment, or happiness). We can no more create the perfect environment for our children than we can create perfect children.”

There are two other pieces of interest to educators in the April issue.

One is a sidebar to Rosin’s article (whose inside headline is “Hey! Parents, Leave those Kids Alone), with the title, “... And Don’t Help Your Kids With Their Homework.” It discusses a study of how parental involvement affects academic achievement, and mostly finds that it doesn’t, writer Dana Goldstein says.

What researchers Keith Robinson of the University of Texas at Austin and Angel L. Harris of Duke University found was that “most measurable forms of parental involvement seem to yield few academic dividends for kids, or even to backfire—regardless of a parent’s race, class, and level of education.”

The other piece of note is a survey of several new books about the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the landmark law backed by President Lyndon B. Johnson that has significant non-discrimination provisions for schools.

“The energy and purpose that Johnson brought to the Civil Rights Act struggle remains inspiring, and is a model for all presidents,” writer Michael O’Donnell says.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Education and the Media blog.