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Kids &Traffic (& Sheep)

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Read Time: 3 minutes

Let Grow mom Jeanie Mezger just got back from a church trip to Tanzania. It’s always good to remember there’s a big world out there, including lots of countries where kids are trusted — needed — to do far more on their own than most of us American parents dream of:

Dear Let Grow:

Traveling in Tanzania gave me plenty of time to observe roads and think about how different they are from what we see here.

I first noticed “third-world” traffic when I was in Marrakesh several years ago. It seems that there are no rules to follow there. A two-lane highway (one lane in each direction) easily becomes three, even four lanes when needed. We watched vehicles passing with on-coming traffic clearly visible. One driver would slow up and make room for the driver passing. It seemed so dangerous and chaotic but I saw no accidents and, unbelievably, no honking, or raised fists or fingers.

How can kids deal with so much danger?

In Moshi, a city of half a million people in Tanzania, I was told they have “several” stoplights. Along the highway, we saw children walking to and from school, women carrying huge bundles on their heads, people herding livestock to whatever grass was available.

As we passed a child keeping an eye on grazing goats one day, one of the women in our group commented on the child doing something so dangerous and wishing it wasn’t that way. The American take was about safety, naturally, and protecting the child against whatever dangers the highway might bring. Not a single thought that giving a child an important job (keep an eye on the family assets!) is a good thing for the child.

We also visited a Maasai village where children walk over 4 miles to school. No long drop-off lines there!

The relevance for American parents?

Jeanie concluded her letter by musing that, while we don’t have child labor here, or 4-mile walks to school alongside careening traffic, we deal with different risks, especially the ever-growing risk of childhood anxiety and depression.

What portion of that is caused by a culture that treats kids as babies long after they’re developmentally ready to explore, play, and help out in significant ways? Impossible to say — but also impossible to dismiss.

It’s also impossible to say whether it’s the “uselessness” of kids that’s getting them down, or being told that even an overwhelmingly safe activity — say, a 2-block walk to the store, or a 10-minute wait for the school bus — is “dangerous.”

Getting stuck in the kiddie corner.

God knows, the shepherd boy in Tanzania may not be a bundle of hope and happiness — or health — himself. What the boy and Jeanie’s trip make clear is only that kids are and always have been capable of dealing with some danger, helping with some chores, and being a crucial part of the culture, not just sitting safe in the kiddie corner.

Some better balance between bubble-wrapping kids and sending them out with a herd and a stick seems ideal.

Not sure how to get started? Sign our Let Grow Pledge and we’ll guide you through 10 simple actions for you and your child to take.

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