How’s this for contrary to popular thinking? The newer and safer parents have made things for kids, the more dangerous it is becoming for our children!
It turns out the trend toward removing playground equipment that could possibly cause injury is actually preventing children from developing perseverance, curiosity, and coping and proper risk assessment skills, while encouraging phobias and anxieties. Psychologists say the key to vanquishing fear is to experience and conquer it. When there is no opportunity to face terror, there is also no opportunity to overcome it.
In other words, if you really want your child to be “safe,” you must first let them experience “danger” like the following:
1. Climb a tall tree: Sure, they might slip and fall (or, horrors, get a splinter!), but they’ll also see the world from a whole new perspective.
2. Sled face first: Isn’t a possible split lip worth that momentary sensation of flying? Plus, if you don’t go down face first, how are you going to avoid that oncoming tree?
3. Damn a stream: You might get wet and catch a sniffle. But you’ll also have single-handedly tamed nature! (Not unlike the all powerful beaver.)
4. Take public transportation: My son has been taking the subway on his own since he was 10 years old. One day, he called to say that his usual subway wasn’t running, could he take another one? He called 10 minutes later to report that the entire system had been shut down, could he take the bus? The bus ended up dropping him off blocks from home. He walked the rest of the way. If he hadn’t been armed with the knowledge, confidence, and, most importantly, the experience of dealing with the public transportation system on a daily basis, what would he have done?
5. Get lost: He’d have gotten lost, that’s what he would have done. But then he’d have figured out how to get home. Because he had no choice in the matter. Desperation is an awesome teacher.
6. Take apart an electronic device: Toy stopped working? Give your kid a screwdriver and let them open it up to see what’s wrong. They are much less likely to “put their eye out” or be knocked unconscious by an electrical jolt than they are to learn a useful skill that will sure come in handy the next time the fire alarm decides to go off in the middle of the night for want of a new battery.
7. Hang a picture: This is a nail, honey, this is a hammer, and God gave us two thumbs so we’d have one to spare.
8. Sew: You want a new outfit for your doll? Here you go. Up and down, up and down goes the needle. No one ever bled out from a pin-prick.
9. Use a kitchen knife: I was born in the former Soviet Union. The mantra there was: Those who don’t work don’t eat. If your kid wants to eat, they’ll learn to work. And if they cut themselves along the way, review Two Thumbs/Hang a Picture above. What do you think you’ve got eight whole fingers for?
10. Use a stove: See that orange/red/blue flickering thing? It’s hot. Don’t touch it. (Or touch it once to confirm that Mommy isn’t a liar. Or an idiot.) Otherwise, go crazy. Sure, there’s a partial chance your kids might burn themselves. But there is a 100 percent chance that they will learn to keep themselves from starving. Which odds would you rather play?
11. Feel bored: American children in the 21st century are the most “enriched” ever (what are they, plutonium?). Every moment is scheduled to be filled with an activity that’s not only engaging, but educational. Try not entertaining your kid. Try not letting the TV or computer entertain them, either. See what happens. (They might even voluntarily gravitate towards one of the activities listed above! And without your prompting. Imagine that!)
12. Lose a board game: When we toured schools a few years ago, one made a point of stressing that the work was customized so that no child ever “felt frustration.” They made it sound like this was a good thing. It is not. A child who doesn’t know how to deal with frustration grows up to become an adult who doesn’t know how to deal with frustration. Do you want to be their boss? Or their spouse? If you’d prefer to avoid that fate, let your kid lose a board game or two (or, rather, don’t let them win). It’s a start. (For more sporty families, substitute Game of H-O-R-S-E.)
Every time we protect a child from getting his feelings hurt, losing his way, burning his finger, or falling off a tree branch, we are sending the message: You can’t take care of yourself. You can’t make good choices. You are helpless and, when a true threat comes, there will be nothing you can do about it.
And that’s the most dangerous parenting fail of all.
How many on this list have your kids done?