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On Self-Reliance, Kids, Willie Mays, and Blasting Caps

Updated: Sep 22, 2023

Below is an old public service announcement in which baseball legend Willie Mays helps kids build awareness of the dangers of blasting caps (dynamite detonators) that they might come across while playing. The 1950’s was a time when children played more freely outdoors than they do today. Back then the answer to the problem of unattended blasting caps was to teach kids safety. Not to tell parents to shelter them indoors and supervise them in their play 24/7.

This Willie Mays spot is astonishing in so many ways. It illustrates that kids back then were far more independent and self-reliant than today. We’ve fallen quite a ways in helping kids learn to navigate life. Last week I wrote about this in the Federalist here: “Kids are Casualties in the War Against Self-Reliance.”

Constant hovering over kids to protect them teaches them dependence, not self-reliance. And the helicopter-parenting trend seems to correlate with a society that’s grown overly dependent on government. It also correlates with a consumerist society that seems to indulge in excessive doses of passive entertainment from ever-present electronic devices. Too many have forgotten that the process of growing up is really a process of controlled risk taking. If we delay children from learning life skills when they are ready to learn them, we stunt their growth as well as their ability to pass those skills on to the next generation. It creates a vacuum and it promotes a social climate more tolerant of a State that ever more aggressively monitors parents and families.

I wrote about the case of two very attentive Maryland parents who have been harassed by child protective services for allowing their children to walk home from a park unattended. The kids were eager and ready to do so and had permission from their parents, but no matter. As government grows, we will see more meddling in the parent-child relationship. There is a connection between allowing parents to raise self-reliant kids and maintaining a free society.

Okay, we’re living in a big fat nanny state. That’s a euphemism, though. The reality is that central planners have always viewed a child’s first teachers of self-reliance—mothers and fathers—as enemies of the State. The less people learn about basic life skills (think thrift or basic survival) and how things work, the better it is for the bureaucratic tyranny. We ought to keep this in mind every time someone questions our right to think for ourselves or exercise self-reliance.
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