Why I let my children play with knives and other risk filled activities.
So I’ve had this TED talk bookmarked for a while and finally sat down to watch it: http://www.ted.com/talks/gever_tulley_on_5_dangerous_things_for_kids?language=en#. What made me sit and write this blog post, rather than just posting a link to the talk, is that this weekend I had to take my 9 year old daughter to the hospital after she cut her leg when using a knife.
I believe I am strong and pretty capable and happy to try my hand at most things and am bringing up my children to do likewise. I bake but I also like to cut down hedges with axes as a hobby. I bring this up because not only do I believe it is important to allow my children to be exposed to risk, but that it’s ESPECIALLY important my daughter is. When bombarded with impressions of women needing rescuing by a proverbial knight (everything from Snow White to Bridget Jones to Twilight) and women being viewed as passive, fragile and valuable for what they look like not what they do, I need to know that she sees another way. What makes this especially pertinent is that I also had to take my son to hospital this weekend (a new family record and not one I hope to beat) with a suspected broken hand from a rugby match and no one blinked an eye, it seems to be viewed as a right of passage for boys but not for girls to sustain some form of childhood injury.
Being exposed to risk allows you to develop your own judgement, it doesn’t make you reckless in the face of a potentially dangerous situations but instead allows you to not only judge the situation, but your capabilities within it, fine-tuning your inner voice, your gut instinct that tells you “this is probably going to be OK/go horribly wrong”. I want my kids to have these skills because at some point, like it or not, they are going to be exposed to risky situations when I’m not there and I sure-as-hell want them to have practised on the small stuff before the consequences escalate. My 8 year old is safer poking sticks into a bonfire with me and possibly burning himself but developing an understanding of fire than having no experience until he’s unattended at a mates BBQ at 15 and starts messing about with petrol (this is an actual scenario, not one I made up).
On a more practical level at some point your child will need to know how to deal with things like fire and, unless they’re going to survive on takeout for the rest of their lives, knives too. I taught my children how to use kitchen knives safely as they helped me prepare meals and have since moved on to ‘bush craft’ type knife use and yes, as evidenced by the soon to be scar on my daughters leg things can, and do, go wrong.
Being exposed to risk and getting it wrong holds a whole host of positive side-effects, from discovering you can be brave or frightened or both and the world won’t end, seeing the kindness of others and most importantly learning resilience, a life skill which is coming out as beneficial in ratings of traditional forms of success and also in happiness.
Now don’t get me wrong, as a parent, loosening those strings a little to let your kids experience risk is tough. This article has some really helpful pointers on how you can help your children learn to manage risk: http://www.kidspot.com.au/raising-confident-children-why-you-should-let-your-kids-fall-out-of-trees/
I’m absolutely wrung out after our double hospital trip weekend but I also know my kids are better equipt to deal with life because of it and lets be honest, no-one said being a parent was easy.