(from The Art of Manliness, in part)
Even though the modern world isn’t any more dangerous than it was thirty or forty years ago, it feels like a more perilous place. Or, more accurately, we inhabit the world today in a way that’s much more risk averse; for a variety of very interesting and nuanced reasons, our tolerance for risk, especially concerning our children’s safety, has steadily declined. So we remove jungle gyms from playgrounds, ban football at recess, prohibit knives (even the butter variety) at school, and would rather have our kids playing with an iPad than rummaging through the garage or roaming around the neighborhood.
Unfortunately, as we discussed in-depth earlier this year, when you control for one set of risks, another simply arises in its place. In this case, in trying to prevent some bruises and broken bones, we also inhibit our children’s development of autonomy, competence, confidence, and resilience. In pulling them back from firsthand experiences, from handling tangible materials and demonstrating concrete efficacy, we ensconce them in a life of abstraction rather than action. By insisting on doing everything ourselves, because we can do things better and more safely, we deprive kids of the chance to make and test observations, to experiment and tinker, to fail and bounce back. In treating everything like a major risk, we prevent kids from learning how to judge the truly dangerous, from the simply unfamiliar.
Fortunately, we can restore the positive traits that have been smothered by overprotective parenting, by restoring some of the “dangerous” activities that have lately gone missing from childhood. The suggestions below on this score were taken both from 50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do), as well as memories from my own more “free range” childhood. If you grew up a few decades back, these activities may seem “obvious” to you, but they’re less a part of kids’ lives today, and hopefully these reminders can help spark their revival. While each contains a element of danger and chance of injury, these risks can be thoroughly mitigated and managed by you, the parent: Permit or disallow activities based on your child’s individual age, maturity level, and abilities. Take necessary precautions (which are common sense and which I’m not going to entirely spell out for you; you’re a grown-up, not a moron). Teach and demonstrate correct principles, and supervise some practice runs. Once you’ve created this scaffolding of safety, however, try to step back and give your child some independence. Step in only when a real danger exists, or when your adult strength/dexterity/know-how is absolutely necessary. And don’t be afraid to let your kids fail. That’s how they learn and become more resilient.
In return for letting your children grapple with a little bit of healthy risk, the activities below teach motor skills, develop confidence, and get kids acquainted with the use of tools and some of the basic principles of science. Outside any educational justification, however, they’re just plain fun — something we’ve forgotten can be a worthy childhood pursuit in and of itself!
Unlike many of you out there, I grew up in a city. And, my Dad was largely absent. I was given boundaries, though. Don’t cross these streets; Don’t play with these kids; Let us know where you are; Be home for dinner @ 6 o’clock.
Other than that, I was pretty much left to my own devices. Playing in old abandoned houses and construction sites, climbing into open manholes and irrigation conduits. Picking through discarded trash for treasures. Making rocket fuel and fireworks. Dissecting unexploded fireworks. Dirt clod fights. Rubber band guns with projectiles!
I wasn’t foolhardy, but I wasn’t a namby-pamby either!
I remember when my Dad’s .22 rifle went missing. He accused me of taking it, but was most upset I hadn’t asked! (I didn’t take it – it was stolen and later recovered by the PD)
From what I’ve observed, most kids (and most adults) don’t play outside or explore anymore. Instead, they are inside getting carpal tunnel…
(And not in the traditional way! 😛 )
Toss your kid outside, without their electronics. And tell ’em not to return until dinner-time.
They might learn something!