A couple of days ago I was enjoying a TED link put up by Turkey Feathers... it was a great talk given by Elizabeth Gilbert, of Eat, Talk, Pray fame, which reminded me that I still haven't read the book my mom sent me, but happily I found it in my sewing room, and then it reminded me that I really do love TED, which is why I have their link in my sidebar; they have such brilliant and succinct speakers, none of whom would write a sentence like this. One thing led to another and I discovered Gever Tulley and 5 Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Children Do. I fancied myself a brilliant Mother, because I can roughly claim that I am letting my children do all 5 dangerous things. Don't Panic: Gever Tulley uses a provocative title to illustrate a point about safety. Denying that danger exists or fearfully avoiding it, does not protect us or our children.
Gever Tulley wants to remind us that we are safer when we learn how to handle sharp objects and responsibly explore the elements, tools and heavy machinery that exist in our world. Knowledge is power, yeah? I think so, and I've written about fire and then I covered sharp things.
To illustrate my story I went through lots of photo archives looking for examples of us playing with fire, knives, and throwing things, and I tried to find good examples of us taking stuff apart and handling heavy machinery, and I have to say it's been kind of hard to find pictures. The 3 boys have knives and they use them, but I haven't taken pictures. We did have campfire pictures...cool.
4. Deconstruct Appliances
The children are welcome to take things apart. We haven't handed over any large appliances, yet, because we repair them or trade them in, but there are several VCRs and toasters that have been disassembled in their hands. Last year Geoff and William took apart 2 broken laptops swapped parts, added new ones and then gave my mom and Geoff's grandma functioning laptops. And there was the built from the ground up computer that the boys built with their dad in early 2004. But I don't have pictures of any of this. I love to capture "everyday" life, but somehow these activities seemed so blandly everyday I missed documenting them. One of Tulley's points is that children should be encouraged to explore, and with a hands on approach learn how things work, how they are made and perhaps they will discover how to make them work better.
I decided to include the picture of Maria stringing beads... very tiny, choking hazard, hard to manipulate beads. She sat on her daddy's lap and spent 2 hours patiently and deftly slipping beads over the string and marveling at how they stacked up. Discovery and perseverance, these experiences are super valuable, and I know this because of that look. I know, it's not exactly a scientific statement, but the look is valid, it's good. When children solve problems, unravel mysteries, accomplish new tasks... they enjoy a sense of self and an awareness of their own abilities. Maria was keenly aware that she was doing a big girl activity and she was devoted to meeting the challenge and responsibility.
I love the look. I just know there are serious neuron-synapse-muscle memory-motor function-eye-hand coordination, joy things going on, and that thrills me.
And I think the outdoors can provide a similar opportunity... taking things apart and figuring-out doesn't have to be limited to manufactured, material things. When Max asked to cross the creek and climb a fallen tree, I was aware that we were trying uncharted territory, that we were risking a fall, wet clothes, mud, maybe some scrapes; I considered the weather, the depth of the creek, the current, the height of the tree, and in 3 seconds I said, "Go for it!" We ought to spend more time taking nature apart, getting dirty, sweating on a trail and crossing creeks. I am a long way from hiking the back country with a compass and a stick, but I am willing to get wet at low tide, try a new trail, and discover new ways of relating to the world, and finding new bridges to cross.
5. Break The DMCA- Drive A Car
Years ago, again in Mexico, I let my boys drive our Big Blue Whale. No takers. I repeated the offer when we returned in 2003, and they were still not interested. Our family land in Mexico is ideal for underage driving... most days there is zero traffic and there are plenty of wide open, even cow-free, spaces. My boys have internalized values and a strong sense of right from wrong. They keep me honest and sometimes they say, "No." I love it when they say no, when they show their own resolve and willingness to express their internalized values. They have driven tractors and Alex tried his Grandpa Corm's riding mower, but they declined underage driving. Maybe this is why I am so comfortable about letting them do the 5 Dangerous Things... maybe it's because they instinctually want to be careful and safe, and I agree with Jennifer, that when we take away the mystery, then the allure-the unknown attraction is diminished.
Eva left an interesting comment on the first post, and she asks, "but do you think there (are) things in life everyone would be wise to be afraid of? like drugs, for one. or is fear inappropriate even here?"
Yes, we are wise to be fearful or aware, respectful.
Bungee jumping, driving under the influence of alcohol, sexu@l promiscuity, feeding bears, texting while driving... there are a lot of things that people choose to do that can have very dangerous consequences, that have risks not just to the one trying a behavior, but to others as well. Drunk driving and bear feeding are not included in my list of dangerous things I let my children try. The risks are too great.
I find that often times risky behaviors that are not worth pursuing have a natural way of weeding themselves out... let the bears feed themselves and never operate anything when your senses are impaired, because it is a foolish thing to do. Period. Other things are tempting or alluring when they are not understood. I am not afraid of drugs, but I have no interest in using drugs. I know they have good and bad effects, but on careful consideration, I believe the risks far outweigh the benefits. I could not limit myself to, "Just say no," when discussing drugs with my children, not as they mature and have an ability to reason, to be curious. Neither will I act as though they are free to experiment or imply that I am cool with whatever. I will not hesitate to show them what happens to cr@ck addicts, or calculate for them the cost of a smoking habit.
At some point they will have to make choices and when that time comes, I hope they are educated, informed, and sure enough of their own beliefs and convictions that they will say "No" to those risks that jeopardize their dignity, health and intelligence. I agree, Eva, we can learn respect without fear, and I hope you can find a safe, comfortable opportunity to learn to start a fire...
This has been fun and interesting to ponder, and it has all been especially meaningful and interesting because of your comments. So, thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences. Maybe the 6th dangerous thing would be "Saying what you think, out loud."