Sunday, February 20, 2011

Let your kids play with fire

Mr. Sparkle
Deerfield Beach, FL, January 2011
[Click photo to embiggen]
There's a conventional wisdom that compels parents to keep their children from contacting, thinking about, initiating or even being in the same room as anything remotely combustible. If my parents taught me one thing, it was to not play with fire.

So I had to ask myself if putting sparklers into my kids' hands just after the year ticked over from 2010 to 2011 was my smartest move as a parent. Sure, sparklers are supposedly considered the safest form of fireworks (at least according to the guy on the street corner who sold them to us.) But as I coached them to wave the burning sticks around in front of them while I stood there with my lens open, a couple of things dawned on me:
  1. These things burn hotter than the surface of the sun. Or at least they seem to.
  2. My children had absolutely no training in the use of hotter-than-the-sun combustibles.
  3. Neither did I.
  4. Neither did any of the other adults gathered around for this impromptu celebration of orbital mechanics.
Did that compel me to slam on the brakes? To grab these things out of their hands and stomp them out before they turned our kids into charcoal briquettes?

Nah. At some point, the parent-nanny-state needs to stop. So I quietly let them go about the business of being kids, minor risks and all. Because eventually they'll need to learn how to navigate the planet. And if they run into some sparklers - or worse - along the way, it'll be handy to know what it feels like to get a few stray sparks on their skin.

Your turn: The difference between being protective and being smothering. Please discuss.


kenju said...

I'm not sure I can speak to that, because I often crossed the line! But according to my kids, their grandmother (my mom) was the worst!! She didn't even want them going to the bathroom alone (at home!)

srp said...

There was an ongoing joke when I was a teenager... that if regulators and others had their way, "feet" and "walking" would be classified as hazardous to your health. Unfortunately, this is no longer a joke. Our ancestors rode trails on the edge of cliffs with no guard rails, they used herbal medicine with no labels, grew their own food with no FDA approval stamps and did quite well. If we shelter and protect our kids to the point of smothering their creativity and spark and that thrill you get when you explore the universe.. well then we might as well throw in the towel to the human race. Kids have to have room to grow and learn from mistakes... mistakes and errors in judgement when made on the smaller scale in childhood can prevent the more monumental ones in the teenage years and beyond. Of course, this means parents also have to have the intestinal fortitude to let the child experience the consequences of his or her actions... bail outs are not only inappropriate from federal governments... but also in parenting. I have met more obnoxious, rude and self-centered kids whose parents were more worried about bruising their self-esteem than developing their good character.

I remember having a problem getting my daughter to get ready for school on time. She was in JR High and the age where she should be able to get up and ready on her own. So I told her that I would call her twice and then when I had to go, I was going to leave.. with or without her. One day she pushed it... I had to go and she bounded out of bed at the last moment, but it was too late. She called me a few minutes later and I simply said she would have to find her own way to school and I wouldn't write any excuse for absence or tardiness. She managed to find our neighbor at home and hitched a ride to school with her.. but she was really late. And she was always prompt to get up after that.

So, let them learn from their own mistakes... who knows, maybe one of them will invent a better sparkler... !!

Max Sartin said...

I think that as a society we have become too prone to make life for our kids (and adults) too risk, pain and accident free. It dulls the senses and makes us prone to be unprepared for the world. We see it every summer here in the desert. Like my older brother put it, people expect the wilderness to be like Disneyland, and we have several deaths from people not taking the risks seriously.
Even worse is our fear of germs and that our kids will get sick. Everything needs to be sanitized, and God forbid kids should play in the dirt. And we wonder why auto-immune disorders are on the rise and we've produced antibiotic proof germs. Makes me think of the last line from "The War of the Worlds":
"From the moment the invaders arrived, breathed our air, ate and drank, they were doomed. They were undone, destroyed, after all of man's weapons and devices had failed, by the tiniest creatures that God in his wisdom put upon this earth. By the toll of a billion deaths, man had earned his immunity, his right to survive among this planet's infinite organisms. And that right is ours against all challenges. For neither do men live nor die in vain."
My parents let us play in the dirt, let us get sick (not on purpose, not because of a dirty house but because it wasn't "germ free"). We weren't even quarantined in our rooms because they were afraid one of the other kids would get sick. Maybe that's why, in 18 years of teaching, I've only used about 20 sick days due to illness.

A Paperback Writer said...

I grew up in the 60s and 70s, when kids didn't wear helmets to ride bikes or ski, didn't wear pads to skate, and when trampolines didn't have huge nets over them. We all survived, and we learned that a person needs to be smart enough not to pop a wheelie while going down a steep hill and that jumping off the second-story balcony onto the trampoline is a really dumb idea. Sometimes I wish for those days back when I see three-year-olds swathed up like football players just to toddle their tiny little bikes with training wheels onto the fenced-in, level driveway.
If you're allowed to skin a few knees, you learn how fast you can run without falling over. If you are protected from everything, you become too stupid to know your own limits.

mmp said...

there are a few things all children could do with being allowed to do..with supervision, but do all the same. My favourites?
camp out overnight,
fall asleep under the stars secure in the knowledge that their parent will took them up inside the tent later,
swim in a river,
wait and watch the tide come all the way in,
grass slide down a hill on squashed cardboard,
learn how to build a fire outdoors,
go for a walk at night ( pitch black, no street lights)

21 Wits said...

Sparklers are STILL my favorite thing ever....there are always some around the house somewhere, just in case....and we always had parents around although some adults like my father and uncle they needed to be watched over, when it came to home fireworks and most of us (ok the girls) had better things to do once the sparklers were gone! But you are right we learn by our mistakes and no matter how many times you say what will happen it usually has to happen to us first to make an impression....hence my daughter's first car accident, with 4friends in the car...first and last time...but you couldn't have told her that.....before the crash...luckily everyone was fine but lesson learned well!

Vicki said...

It's funny that as you grow older you suddenly become overtly aware of the "danger" in the world. When I think back to some of the things I did as a teen ... well ... I just did it. Now ... I would probably think twice ... at least and decide it might not be a good idea.

BUT, I must state that I have never really tried to stop my children for doing things. Just take a look at my blog. You will see my daughter jumping off a cliff into the ocean or off a bridge into a river.

I am an adventurous soul. (The first time I zip-lined I was 50) and I always encourage my family to do something that others may view as a little on the "wild side."

As babies, my children were out in any weather and were hardly sick. As youngsters, they climbed trees, played in barns, waded in creeks, and swam in ponds and lakes.

Even now, in the summer we tube in a river where cows wade on hot summer days.

Mark said...

Seems everybody covered my feelings. We need to let children do risky things so that they can handle them when they're unavoidable. Including searing hot objects.