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Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Kids Do This Summer

Daja June 13, 2016

Part of parenting is teaching our children how to negotiate their boundaries. This means letting them try and fail at some seemingly dangerous things.

By Daja, Contributing Writer

Safety First?

We live in a world where the guiding principle is “safety at all cost.” It begins when we are pregnant being told what not to eat, drink and breathe, lest something bad happen to our baby. We live in fear of that sip of wine or that bite of fish, unwittingly depriving ourselves of some joy and possibly our bodies of some nourishment.

But it doesn’t end there. As soon as our baby is born, we have the house childproofed, the list of emergency numbers handy and stop just shy of wrapping the child in bubblewrap. Our children never get on a bike, skates or scooter with a helmet, elbow and knee pads. They never play in the rain or roll in the grass. Never cross the street outside a crosswalk. They never play on a play structure unsupervised. Never climb up a slid or jump off a swing. They don’t use tools to build treehouses or to try to dig their way to China. They are safe. Safe, safe, safe. All the time.

That is until they are out of our sight or get out on their own. Then there is no end to reckless behavior. Check out the stats on college campuses. Young people do really reckless things. They push boundaries. They are wary of rules. Typically, they are not very good at weighing the risks of new ideas. They often don’t quite see the line between fun and danger.

Why is that? Often these are good kids who have been loved, fed and carpooled. But no one has ever given them the space, time and freedom to test their own abilities and boundaries. So their life and survival skills are not just rusty–they are untested.

Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Kids Do

I believe children should learn to do “dangerous” things. They should be able to find their limits, explore within their boundaries, be brave and the fail–while they are young! When the payout or risk is relatively minimal. When the stakes aren’t so high. Where we can help them to steward their failures, evaluate their choices and hone their skills.

I don’t want my children to live in a bullet-proof shell where they never have any life experiences. So, they should live “dangerously.” No, they don’t have to jump off buildings or take up extreme sports. There are plenty of things children for ages past have done that our children are completely capable of, if only we believed in them and let them try.

The lazy days of summer are a perfect time to try out some of these dangerous things. Here are seven things you add to your child’s summer to-do list:

Sleep Outside

There is just something about laying there under the stars (or in a tent) just you and your buds (or siblings) without your parents managing things. Time to find constellations, talk, try to figure out which nocturnal creature is making that weird noise.  There’s a sense of mystery there in the dark where anything seems possible and you’re open to new dreams. Plus, sleeping out gives you the joy of waking up outside. Early mornings outdoors is a sort of deliciousness that few people truly get the experience.

Build Fires

“For thousands of years everyone, including children, carried basic tools and understood basic skills for survival such as building fires and shelters. Humans had a symbiotic relationship with the natural world where we took care of the earth and earth took care of us, it wasn’t feared, it was as real and a part of life as our homes are now….This means that young children were taught about fire, how to build and manage fire, how to cook over fire and about controlled burning of the forest.” (Ann Tepperman, Let Kids Play With Fire)

Part of the problem with fire is that it is not part of our daily lives. So, there is a mystique surrounding it. But with exposure to it comes a knowledge of its dangers and a healthy amount of respect along with appreciation! So, build a little fire ring in the backyard or get a fire pit from the garden store. Let them start a fire. Roast some marshmallows and watch the coals.

Use Knives

There is something very satisfying about sitting on the back steps with a good hunk of wood and a knife and whittling away. What kid doesn’t like to carry a great pocket knife? It feels enormously important and grown up! And not only pocket knives! Let them use the kitchen knives, too. Teach them good knife skills, which knives to use for which things, how to properly hold the item they are cutting. For thousands of years children have been able to handle knives because it was part of basic survival skills. Our kids can still do it today, we just have to teach them and trust them.

Play Unsupervised

When we go to the playground, I find a nice spot on a bench or on my picnic blanket and I watch my kids play. I don’t tell them how to play. They play freely; I don’t organize games of ring-around-the-rosy or Simon Says for them. I don’t tell them not to climb the slide. And I don’t help them climb up the rope ladder or to come down the rope ladder (generally speaking). It is their play time. And mama interfering is just a drag. They learn quickly how to negotiate their little world. If they can figure out how to go up, they figure out how to come down. Their problem solving skills are being honed.

Then some other well-meaning parent on the playground starts “helping” them to make it through the challenges of the structure. Suddenly my kids are helpless. And they are calling from the bridge for someone to get them down. I must dodge the dirty glares from other parents as I say, “No, you made it up there, you can get down. Just try.” It’s not even “tough-love.” It’s believing in the ability and capability of your children that builds tremendous confidence and helps them to truly tap into their potential as problem solvers.

Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Kids Do This Summer

Use the Kitchen Toaster/Stove/Oven/Grill

Again, just as with fire and knives, children have been preparing their own food for millennia. It’s relatively recent in human history where children have been kept out of the kitchen and food prep was reserves strictly for the adults. Children can easily negotiate simple meals preparations utilizing various heat sources. They will learn a healthy respect for appliances and power and also appreciation for their mother’s cooking!

Climb Trees

It’s fantastically challenging, gets the kids outdoors into sunshine and fresh air, it’s completely free and it’s a great exercise! Tree climbing belongs to childhood.

“But what if they fall???” Then they will do better next time after learning their boundaries.

Walk To Familiar Places

No, I’m not talking about sending your inexperienced, naive child lose in the middle of Los Angeles and saying, “Good luck with that.” I’m talking about, the corner market, that’s a block away and that you’ve been going to together for years. Give your child a couple bucks and let him walk there himself. Or her best friend’s house that is just around the corner and across the street. Do you have to drive? I bet she can get herself there on her own if given the chance.

Precautions When Doing Dangerous Things

At what age you begin letting your children do these dangerous things is completely up to you. As a parent no one knows your child better than you. Just don’t under-estimate your child because you are afraid. Fear is a terrible motivator.

Teach by example and instruction. Your kids should see your good example in doing these and other dangerous things. Model for them the good behavior you expect. And teach them as you do so. Explain why you are building the fire just that way. Explain how you are cutting that piece of wood away from your body and not towards. Quiz them in the car to see that they have a sense of direction and know where they are going. Teach, teach, teach. Use all those teachable moments before you set them loose.

Be ready to help them process potential failures. There will be times your child falls, burns his fingers, gets lost, etc. Be ready to help your child see and understand that failures are a part of life and that our job is to learn from them and to grow from them and then to never give up.

What dangerous things would you add to this list?

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Daja is the happy wife of Gana and the mother of nine amazing children. She's bookish and easily distracted and has too many ideas and not enough time. She writes about family life, preparedness, natural health, liturgical living over at The Provision Room, your source of abundant home-centered living!
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6 Comments

  1. I agree, you have to let them actually do things! My 11 year old son is allowed to ride his bike around our neighborhood and does so frequently since he was 9. His friend on the next street over, who is almost 12, is still not allowed to ride his bike over to our house. I just read in a forum yesterday about parents not letting their 11-year-olds cruise the neighborhood out of fear.

    I also let my 11 and 5 year old sleep out in a tent for two nights to kick off summer… My neighbors (a few years younger than I) seemed horrified.

    I know bad things happen but they happen to overly cautious people too. I just don’t understand why parents don’t give their kids the same freedoms they had. Sometimes I think the helicoptering is a replacement for actual parenting. The “easier to do it myself” culture.
    Yes, it’s easier to fold the towels myself rather than have my son fold them wrong but… Have him refold the entire stack a few times and he will never fold it wrong again!
    Kids have to learn how to be independent!

    Reply

  2. I enjoyed your article, Daja! All the “dangerous” things you list were natural parts of my own childhood. By age 10, my friends and I were expected to have the common sense to do all sorts of things safely without adult supervision — burn piles of autumn leaves we had raked up, ride our bikes all over town, climb trees, play on every imaginable piece of playground equipment (we were always inventing new “tricks”), climb trees, walk to the store, use knives in the kitchen, cook simple stuff, use small kitchen appliances of all sorts, go for a hike on a camping trip and not get lost, play outside in the snow in weather way below freezing and not get frostbitten or seriously chilled, recognize tornado weather and get to safety, play safely on the banks and in the shallows of mountain rivers, and deal appropriately with wild animals including skunks, snakes, spiders, bees, bears, and animals that appeared to be rabid.

    Some people would probably be shocked to hear that I taught my daughter how to cut veggies and fruit with a knife when she was two. I gave her a good sharp knife that fit her small hand well, and showed her how to use it. She loved helping in the kitchen and never cut herself.

    Later I ran a cooking class for kids, and I had kids from 4 or 5 up using knives and learning to use a food processor, a spiralizer, a juicer, a gas stove, etc. Besides fixing snacks for ourselves many times, we cooked 20 servings of hot main dishes for five different potluck dinners over a period of about 6 months. Nobody ever got cut by a knife, burned, or otherwise injured. The worst things that happened were things like “Whoops I spilled the salt!” or “Oh no, some of the egg shell fell in the batter!”

    I think you are absolutely right that kids need to “stretch their wings” and test their abilities and limits. When I was a kid, I don’t think I knew a single kid who was “overprotected.” We kids were adventuresome but not foolish, and that was partly because so often there WAS no adult nearby to “save us” — so we used good sense!

    Reply

  3. […] got this, Mama! Feed the kids. Send them outside to do something dangerous. Rock this […]

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  4. […] about our children’s safety and don’t let them run around the neighborhood with friends like children did a generation ago. When a child grows up with us watching over them and dictating their every mood, how can they […]

    Reply

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I’m Kate, mama to 5 and wife to Ben.  I love meeting new people and hearing their stories.  I’m also a big fan of “fancy” drinks (anything but plain water counts as ‘fancy’ in my world!) and I can’t stop myself from DIY-ing everything.  I sure hope you’ll stick around so I can get to know you better!

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