Experience is the best teacher

As parents we aim to do everything we can to keep our children safe from even a hint of danger; which is exactly why many parents of young children look at the playground slide their child wants to try and opt to slide down with the child – to keep them safe.
And ironically, that is the worst thing they can do.
According to an Associated Press story, a study at Winthrop University Hospital in Mineola, N.Y., found that nearly 14 percent of pediatric leg fractures treated there over an 11-month period involved toddlers riding down the slide with a parent. After setting so many little bones, orthopedists say children are safer sliding on their own. That way, if a foot gets caught while the child is sliding alone, he can just stop moving or twist around until it comes free. But when the child is sitting in an adult’s lap, the force of the adult’s weight behind him can break his leg.
Dr. Edward Holt, orthopedic surgeon at Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis, Md., said the best solution is to  put the child on the slide at the halfway point with the parent standing next to the slide.
It’s scary to let go – do it anyway.
And not just at the playground.
Introduce your child to many new experiences and skills early, while they still believe you really do know best. They need the practice.
The lack of hands-on activities hinders development of the brain, according to the latest edition of “Brain in the News” in its article “What’s Wrong with the Teenage Mind.”
For decades, families, teachers and friends watched in astonishment as teens displayed reckless driving patterns, poor activity choices and overall lack of maturity. Then, highly technical studies of the brain concluded that while teens have the knowledge, they lack the judgment and self-control because their pre-frontal brain is not as developed as an adult’s brain.
Reading that sent a sigh of understanding across the land, “So that’s why they act that way. Their brains have to catch up with their bodies.” Many concluded we just needed to move the responsible activities such as driving to an older age.
It sounds like the perfect solution, but other studies, according to the article, conclude that the more hands-on real experiences children and teens receive, the better they develop control of themselves and the more insight they gain of situations. Or, referring back to the brain, the more development that occurs in the pre-frontal cortex.
In other words, experience is still the best teacher.
Today’s adolescents are not stupider than the teens of 200 years ago who served as apprentices. They simply have not been taught, encouraged or positioned to learn practical applications. Today’s teens spend more time learning more things about more subjects than did those apprentices – but there are different kinds of smart.
Too many of today’s teens lack the development of finely-honed, controlled, focused expertise in a particular skill. For instance, at 12, Benjamin Franklin began working for his brother, a printer. He helped set the print (read that he worked with machinery) and then hawked the papers on the street (walked the streets unprotected, unwatched and did business with total strangers). By the time he was 15, Franklin secretly wrote very popular articles under the name of a fictional widow, Silence Dogood. When his brother could not run the paper for an extended time, Franklin successfully ran it for him.
Experience shapes the brain. As the article concluded, “You come to make better decisions by making not-so-good decisions and then correcting them. You get to be a good planner by making plans, implementing them and seeing the results again and again.”
When children participated in adult activities as children, they had their childhood and adolescence to tune up the prefrontal brain (the control center) needed as an adult.
Here is the clincher: In the past, all that practice and learning was done “under expert adult supervision where the impact of the inevitable failures was blunted.” Then when the energy and motivation of puberty arrived, the child was ready to go after real rewards … with the skills and control necessary to do it effectively and reasonably safely.
For safer drivers, it is not so much putting off learning until an older age as it is keeping supervising adults in the car longer while the teen hones their skills.
For so many other skills, consider community-service programs such as AmeriCorps, Salvation Army, babysitting, Habitat for Humanity, Boys Scouts and don’t forget even very young children can help with household chores, meal preparations, shopping and yard work.
Experience is the best teacher. As parents we just need to step back enough to let the child feel the thrill of doing it themselves.