When I was a kid, we did lots of scary and dangerous things! It was our way of exploring the world and getting to know how to negotiate it and come out alive. Here are my top ten favorite dangerous things, which have been inspired by my own experience and also having read Gever Tully’s book, 50 Dangerous Things (you should let your kids do).
Just in case you think I am totally irresponsible, let me make it clear that the most important lesson from all this is to let our kids experience the world safely. The goal is to let them gain competence, thus minimizing any risks.
1. I let my kids climb trees
Many parents forbid tree climbing. They say that you might fall and break a leg. But this is one of the most enjoyable experiences of childhood. Actually, my brother was a great tree climber at our school. I remember those large sycamore trees near the hockey pitch. But disaster struck one day. He fell and was knocked unconscious. Hospital, no bones broken, everything OK. The result was that tree climbing was banned forever at our school!
But that did not stop us. There was a hawthorn tree at the end of our garden and there were wonderful trees at our grandmother’s house in the country.
There are loads of advantages to tree climbing for kids. They learn co-ordination, they get exercise for many muscle groups and there is also a sense of achievement. They can learn how to balance and also judge the weight-bearing capacity of branches. They also learn about gravity and calculating jumps.
2. I let my kids travel alone on the subway
Why do you think Lenore Skenazy was called the ‘world’s worst mom’? Because she allowed her nine-year-old kid to travel alone on the subway. She is the author of a book called Free Range Kids and she also hosts her own TV show, appropriately called World’s Worst Mom.
She feels strongly that our kids are safer and smarter than their parents think. She also says that crime rates are lower now than in the 70s but the fear ratio has skyrocketed because of media saturation.
Obviously, you need to teach a child about the risks of traveling alone and make sure they know what to do. This will very much depend on the age of the child, their character and where you live.
3. I let my child learn to walk alone
We are now plagued with ads for helmets for our children to wear when they learn to walk! The risk culture has got out of control. “The child must not fall!” But this is the essential part of the learning process. When a child learns to walk, she or he just needs parents to be there. Nothing else is necessary.
4. I let my kids play
Too many modern parents are overscheduling their kids. Learning yoga, piano and now even Mandarin are all squeezing out time for normal rough and tumble play with other kids. These activities are essential to learn about impulse control and turn taking, learning to lose graciously and so on.
5. I let my kids play with scissors and knives
Modern parents lock away anything risky. I had a penknife when I was young, and yes, I did cut myself. Lesson learned. Learning to handle tools, knives and implements is helping kids master manual skills. If they are never allowed to touch them they will never get the chance to learn.
The best solution is not to lock them away immediately but let kids handle them under our supervision so that they can learn about the risks.
“Giving in to our own fears and taking over difficult or dangerous tasks sends them the message that they’re incapable of accomplishing these things on their own. Children pick up on these messages when they’re very young.” – Rosemary Strembicki
6. I let my kids take things apart
When we stored old appliances in the garage, I let my kids take them to pieces. Learning how to use screwdrivers, hammers and pliers is a great way to make kids more dextrous. The learning opportunities were also awesome because it created curiosity about how things work. It also encouraged them to help me fix things in the house. Now these things are never taught at school.
“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” – Mark Twain
7. I let them mess around in the kitchen
Encouraging kids to cook will stand them in good stead in adult life. Good cooks are always popular and make friends easily. Yes, I know it all gets a bit messy, but look at all the advantages:
- Build confidence and self-esteem
- Boost motivation
- Learn about food and what is nutritious and healthy
- Increase awareness of risks associated with cookers, gas and other appliances
- They are much more willing to try new food if they have prepared it themselves
- They become involved in the shopping, planning, and cleaning up
- Give them a break from computer games and TV
- Great for bonding with parents.
8. I let my children fail
When I saw that my kids were screwing up, I didn’t intervene, not unless there was a safety issue or risk. I do not think this was bad parenting at all. On the contrary, it was an excellent way of letting them experience disappointment, frustration, resilience, and above all perseverance for the next time round. Many helicopter parents never let their kids experience these essential life lessons.
9. I let them light the fire
Don’t play with fire! Well, my kids did and Bear Grylls, the UK television adventurer, agrees with me. He would like things like fire lighting and other survival skills to be part of the school curriculum in the UK.
“You empower kids by teaching them how to do something dangerous, but how to do it safely.” – Bear Grylls
10. I let my kids play in the country
Many kids never get to see the countryside. They have never had any real contact with nature. Things like catching fish, tying knots, camping out and canoeing down a river–not forgetting rolling down a hill–are wonderful childhood activities. The National Trust in the UK has issued a list of 50 things kids can do before they are twelve years of age. Highly recommended.
It seems that many children are overprotected and overscheduled. They are rarely allowed to try and solve problems, meet with setbacks and failure. These parents are sending a very disturbing message to their kids. They are beginning to understand that they cannot do anything for themselves because they are not allowed to and that the world is very dangerous. Call that good parenting?
Let your kids do some of the activities above. You will be pleasantly surprised, as I was.