Then they captured their adventures on film. (No one got hurt.)
In case you don’t get their point, the bubble-wrapped kids explain it in their seven-minute video about overprotection, launched yesterday as part of a project called Child Health 2.0 at Queen’s University.
In a nutshell, adult fears about safety, risk and letting kids experience adversity is out of control, they conclude.
Let us fall down occasionally! Let us make mistakes and learn from them! And please, they urge, allow us the opportunity to try and fail.
“Are we losing something by being so careful?” one of the narrators wonders aloud.
The pushback against helicopter parenting has been growing among psychologists and researchers. But the message has a special clout coming from the kids themselves, who are members of the project’s youth advisory panel.
The panel of eight students, grades 7 through 10, was launched “to give kids a voice” about their own health, says Valerie Michaelson of Queen’s School of Religion and one of three public health experts leading the project.
This is a generation raised with no balls in the schoolyard and no climbing trees. It’s an era when adults step in to save them from failing, and kids get trophies for showing up at soccer matches where no one keeps score. They’ve been under surveillance since their first baby monitor and are always in texting range in case called upon to make a decision.
But they have opinions on all of it.
“I think you have to fall at some point,” says one of the girls after the group learns about balancing safety and risk at a climbing park.
That’s how you learn to get back up again, or not go so high the next time.
“It’s OK to fail sometimes cause you can learn from it,” says another.
During the course of the documentary, they collect examples from all over the country of over-the-top restrictions and rules they say are hindering kids’ growth, physical activity and learning.
They consult a roundtable of experts, including a psychologist, emergency room physicians and a teacher, to talk about the impact of all this overprotection.
They learn it breeds anxiety and kids who aren’t learning how to negotiate their own boundaries — which could be setting them up for trouble down the road when there’s no one there to do it for them.
When they heard that cities like Hamilton had banned tobogganing, the panel couldn’t resist the idea of dressing in bubble wrap to drive home their point. (They also considered donning life jackets and sitting in the bottom of a pool that had been drained.)
“If I just do nothing it gets boring,” Adam Tibi, 13, explains on film. “You’re safe but what’s the point — you’re just sitting around existing?”
Most kids he knows are eager to push themselves and try new things, Adam said.
“If they’re kept inside this tiny little box it’s going to prevent them from being creative and independent so when they grow up they’re not going to have these tools they need.”
The Child Health 2.0 project, funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, is a holistic initiative that explores the physical, mental, social and spiritual realms of kids’ health with input from families and youth.
What children say about being free from bubble wrap:
Catriona Farquharson, 14:
In elementary school, the teachers wouldn’t let you run around at recess if it was raining or play soccer if the field was wet or go on the play structure if it was a bit rusty. I think it set a lot of kids back. That’s when they’re supposed to be getting exercise and they don’t know what to do if they can’t do any of that.
Adam Tibi, 13:
I remember a science exam that I got a very poor grade (on). After that I studied for a very long time and I boosted my grade up by a lot. That was a learning experience for me, that I need to study more and be more independent. Even though I felt really horrible, now I feel really good and I know how it’s done.
Isobel Moore, 12:
My mom let me climb trees if we were together. I’ve fallen, but never from a high height and I never got seriously hurt. I think I learned the difference between a safe, healthy risk and a risk when you actually could get seriously hurt and it’s not smart.
Arwen Robinson, 12:
If you’re not allowed to do something, you don’t learn, if you fall, how to get back up. There’s a lot of things you can learn by having the experience yourself. The message we’re trying to get out is if you’re going to make a new rule or ban something, think about how this is going to affect kids in the long run.