“Picture a cross between Spider-Man and the Flash, and you have my daughter,” writes Leslie Kendall Dye in the Washington Post. “I can handle my child; I’ve been doing it for years. It’s the admonitions of strangers that depletes me… I’ve developed a thick skin after years of strangers sending me the signal that my child’s exploits are dangerous and that I am irresponsible for allowing her to engage in them.” In her article, Dye speaks to all the strangers who tell her that her daughter is at risk of getting hurt, reminding them that all children can and should be physically adventurous — and that it’s particularly important not to undermine girls as they test their limits.
Dye can’t help but wonder “how often I’d be criticized if my child were a boy… I’ve never seen a boy the same age who is as fearless or muscular as my daughter. Or maybe I don’t notice the boys who jump from great heights or shinny up poles — I don’t notice them because I have been conditioned to expect this behavior from boys. Are we still a society that trains girls to ‘behave’ by undermining their confidence in their own bodies’ strength and ability?” Sometimes, strangers even seem to feel a need to remind Dye’s daughter — or themselves — that she is a girl. “When she leaps from scaffolding and lands at someone’s feet like a cheetah on the prowl, she is often greeted with: ‘Such a pretty face!’ Or, ‘What a pretty dress that is!’… She just sailed five feet through the air — and it wasn’t the dress that did the jumping.”
“We should want for all our children the kind of sure-footedness that only repeated explorations of varied terrains can provide,” she writes. “Interfering with risk-taking mammalian play imperils our young by undermining their confidence. It also disrupts their development…. My daughter has rarely skinned a knee, much less broken a bone. Even if she had, I would not try to stop her quest for high adventure.” While the unsolicited advice, comments, or criticisms of strangers are often tiresome, sometimes, Dye observes, someone says just the right thing: on a recent trip to a park, an elderly woman walking with a cane stopped to watch Dye’s daughter, then turned to her. “Your daughter is willful and determined,” she said. “I wish all children — especially girls — were allowed to roam free. May she never change.”