I just finished watching Gever Tulley’s Ted Talk, “5 Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Kids Do,” and I’m not sure that I’m done freaking out. I have visions in my head of allowing my 5 year old to use real knife or letting my 8 year old try to drive the family car (that one might lead to a heart attack). It really has never crossed my mind that I should let my kids play with fire or throw a
spear (we don’t own a spear which makes this even harder). The one idea that resonated with me was letting children take apart appliances (I just have to figure out which appliance I’m willing to part with.)
I’m not sure that I would take all of Tulley’s advice literally (and even he suggests taking the ideas with a grain of salt), but his general theme makes sense. The second danger enters into the parenting equation, we instantly start figuring out how to protect our children. I recently stopped myself from allowing my oldest child from staining a picnic table that I had put together. Why? Because I was worried that she might get stain on herself and that she was too young to work with outdoor stain.
Now that I’m done the project, I’m pretty sure that I made the wrong decision or at least made the decision for the wrong reasons. So what if the stain gets on her? She comes home from school and camp covered in paints, markers, and dirt. A long bath or shower would solve that problem (and if it doesn’t, it wouldn’t be the first time that she went to school with marker still on her). Dangerous? Maybe I should be teaching her how to handle chemicals in a safe manner – proper ventilation, protective gear, etc.
The challenge is balancing my ingrained fear of harm coming to my children with my desire to see them grow and develop resilience. I’ve frequently written about how I want to promote risk taking with my students and with myself, but the challenge is much harder as the parent, perhaps because we view the stakes as being so much harder. Tulley correctly points out that through these “dangerous” activities our children can gain so many skills that are valuable as well as giving them a stronger sense of how far out on the limb to go (one of Tulley’s 50 Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Children Do, which is also the name of his book, is climb a tree).
And while Tulley talked about dangerous things, his talk was really about “some simple things that we can do to raise our kids to be creative, confident and in control of the environment around them.” Knowing this, I’m going to commit to allowing my children to push their boundaries while pushing my own boundaries and comfort levels. I still not going to let our children drive our car, but I am going to challenge my thinking around acceptable risks. My kids are going to help me with carpentry, take things apart, and learn to respect tools. And I think we’ll all be better for it.