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Are You Overprotecting Your Child?

You probably remember Charlie Brown's Valentine's Day trauma: Would he get any valentines? Could he even dare to dream of one from the object of his affections, the Little Red-Haired Girl? Well, if Charlie Brown went to elementary school with my children, he wouldn't have to worry. Anyone who wants to bring in valentines is required to bring in exactly one card for exactly every child in the class. No fair giving the kindergartner you like best a nicer card than the kid you'd like to feed to the class gerbil, either.

And did I mention the birthday-party rule? No inviting classmates to a birthday party unless you invite them all. You are allowed to invite just the boys or just the girls, once you get to what is termed the cootie phase, but you are not permitted to draw any finer distinctions.

These days, most 5-year-olds are pretty safe from the moments  -- and, oh, how we parents cringe at the idea of those moments  -- when they might come face-to-face with another child's preferences. When they might be officially Left Out. I went to an elementary school where gym class involved the fully sanctioned ritual of choosing up sides, with two team captains picking off their choices from a long line of girls, while the unchosen stood and stood, waited and suffered. Today even high school-age kids are tactfully assigned to the A squad or the B squad by officials; the lists are posted, but there is no sense of personal rejection.

I'm not here to argue that all this cushioning is a bad idea, that we are creating little namby-pambies who will never be able to stand up to the rough-and-tumble of the great big playground that is real life  -- at least, not exactly. I have no desire to put the tension back into kindergarten Valentine's Day, thank you very much.

Perri Klass, M.D., is a professor of journalism and pediatrics at New York University. Her most recent book, Every Mother Is a Daughter: The Neverending Quest for Success, Inner Peace, and a Really Clean Kitchen, coauthored with her mother, Sheila Solomon Klass, was published last year by Ballantine.