July 24, 2008

In Passing: "5 Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Kids Do"

So, this isn't the promised wealth of pictures, but it's interesting. It's a 10-minute TED talk about how our particular culture of "safety" can actually make life more dangerous for children, and also considerably less interesting.

This grabbed my attention immediately because I had just been talking about how my parents were very successful at doing something similar--that is, introducing me to "dangerous" things in a way that made me convinced that being "safe" with them was a cool and worthwhile, rather than boring and irritating (as safety rules often seem to be).

Some of my earliest memories are of going off the diving board with my Dad. I felt completely secure and excited and proud to be able to swim in the deep end, dive down to touch the drain twelve feet deep, do flips and handstands, and looked with complete scorn on kids who would run at the pool, which was a surefire way, I knew even then, to fall on wet concrete and whack your head, and thus was dangerous--unlike what I was doing, which was exploring something powerful--water--in a way that made me respect that powerful things become dangerous when they they are not treated safely.

I had similar experiences watching kids exhibit what I considered to be completely stupid behavior with fireworks--which I set off in great and terrific abundance every summer, always being careful to fulfill a whole series of safety precautions. For me, these precautions weren't about fear, they were about power, the power of fire, which I only was able to harness because I knew what it meant to be safe. Those kids running around with tiny firecrackers, set off wily-nily--I knew they felt cool, because they held them recklessly in their hands, too close and too long--but to me, they seemed powerless. They were stuck with boring fireworks completely out of their control, while I, who took the time to erect a safe platform, water bucket near by, and a safety plan desivised in (what felt like) collaboration with my folks, was allowed to use my long careful matches to send great blooming explosions high into the night sky.

I guess the point is that sometimes safety means removal--taking away a potentially dangerous thing. Certainly that's often true. But sometimes the safer route is actually exposure, and experimentation, and opportunity. Sometimes the safer route is, as the speaker cited says, playing with the fire rather than pretending there's no flame.


Anonymous said...

Sarah, perhaps your dad learned this from his brilliant mother, your Grams! remember the important story that when Dad, as a little kid, set a fire in the neighbor's bushes, Grams explained to him that he was welcome to build a fire in the sandbox outside her kitchen window anytime he wanted, AS LONG AS he told her first so she could watch his fire!

from your pyromaniac parents! mama/mimi

Amy E said...

I highly recommend a deeper study of the chemical neuroscience behind what propels our exploration and adventure in life: "Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why" by Laurence Gonzales. I'm reading it now and it's one of the best books I've ever read - the kind of book that explains EVERYthing.

I think my parents (and perhaps Brandon's parents, as I recall) never made alcohol a big deal in our households growing up. Children and adolescents were allowed small sips, so it wasn't a big deal to rebel by boosing it up once we reached the appropriate age. It worked; neither of us became alcoholics or fetishized alcohol.

Beck said...

My parents were incredibly HORRIBLE in their attitude towards risk - my mother has a naturally VERY cautious attitude AND lost a young brother, while my dad is... uh, "a risk-taker." To a crazy extent. So for me, allowing my kids to take appropriate risks is really difficult, because I don't have a great sense of what appropriate risks ARE. Luckily, my husband is a sensible guy.

Kate said...

This is such a good reminder. My mother was not keen on the risk taking...and to her, I think risk taking meant standing on one foot in the grass with no pillows to catch you if you were caught off balance. My husband seems to think letting our three year old ski down mountain at break-neck speeds is an okay way to spend the afternoon. And then there's me, stuck in the middle.

Roxanne said...

So well said, I agree and have thought a lot about this as Anni is being exposed to all sorts of new and different "dangers" here taht were not present stateside. I think kids that are not able to learn boundaries for themselves and practice resposible barriers will test the limits later on, perhaps doing reckless behavior (like I did) without realizing the cost. Doing things taht are dangerous and hard and realizing you can do it also creates inner strength and courage!! Still, it is a hard balance, for now Anni cannot play with posionous snakes :) miss you a ton!! Thanks for yoru thoughts!