The MotherTalk Bonanza for this Friday is about the book The Dangerous Book for Boys, by brothers Conn and Hal Iggulden. Several questions were raised by this book - such as:
- Have we made childhood too safe? Are we too afraid for our children, too scared to let them wander, ride bikes around the block, take risks? What are the real risks, which are imagined, and how do we navigate these, as their moms?
- What dangerous games did you play as a child? What did you do that you'd never, ever want your kids to try? What risks do you hope they'll take that you didn't?
- Dangerous Book for Boys is aimed, obviously, at boys; it was written by two brothers trying to bring back the fun from their childhoods. At least one blogger has criticized the boy-focus, and asked where the girls are: http://ginmar.livejournal.com
/1072655.html. What do you think? What would a Dangerous Book for Girls include? What do girls need to know?
- What makes it okay for boys to be dangerous, but not girls? (or why is it scarier for girls to be dangerous?)
First, a little bit about me........ From the age of 4 to 18, I grew up in small Kansas towns that were close enough to Lawrence and Kansas City for us to not be isolated, yet far enough away that I truly got the "small town" experience. In both of these towns, I actually lived IN town for awhile and also in the country - both of which presented very different dangers. Furthermore, besides it being the 1970s, my parents were very, very relaxed when it came to childrearing and furthermore, I was left to my own devices at an early age. My dad worked nights at the hospital and YES, he was home during the day, but he was sleeping - so, from 3rd grade on, I didn't have a babysitter. And yeah, I was pretty much doing whatever I wanted to do. When we lived in town, I lived in the streets - we did EVERYTHING in the street - baseball, kickball, bikes, hopscotch - you name it. When we lived in the country, I lived in the woods and on dirt roads. I never wore a bike helmet as a kid yet have ridden miles on dirt roads AND major county highways. I rarely wore bug spray. I didn't think twice about scrambling onto a trampoline. I didn't wear protective gear while rollerskating and often, the leather straps of my metal rollerskates would come loose from my tennis shoes and I would go flying. And, I've tramped through enough pastures and hay bales that it boggles my mind thinking of how close I must have come to copperheads and rattlesnakes all those years.
I have very mixed feelings about these experiences. On the one hand, exploring our woods was such a treasure for me. I had my special spots along the creek where I enjoyed hanging out and I had my special trees that I liked to climb. On the other hand, one of my most precious memories to this day is one of me running around in our fields with an umbrella while I sang songs from the Sound of Music because OMIGOD, I wanted to BE Julie Andrews. However, I did this during a lightening storm. Also, I used to go miles down the road to visit neighbors who my parents didn't know very well. And yes, one of those neighbors was inappropriate with me - nothing serious, but most definitely inappropriate.
What do I want for my own children? (Note: I take issue with the "boy" part and am going to ignore it. No debate necessary - I want the same for my daughter as my son. Period.) Basically, I am striving for a mix that all of us can live with. For sure, my kids will wear bike helmets. But full-body armor? Um, NO. Not unless they are roller-blading would I insist on the extra gear. We don't have gates on our stairs and our 19 month old has full run of our house. My 5 year old nephew tumbles down the stairs at his house. Hell, I still tumble down the stairs myself. Currently, my son is as safe as it's ever going to be. The rule is clear, he has to slide down on his stomach or forget it. If he tries to walk the stairs as normal, the gate goes up. Guess what he chooses? And sure, I locked away the bleach and knives, but I don't see a reason to put a lock on everything. He's torn apart my kitchen more than a few times, but is now tired of the contents leaving me free to a kitchen virtually free of those silly locks. And yep - I let my son run around in the back yard by himself as long I am in the kitchen where I can keep an eye on him. In our front yard, he's also allowed to run around - he's not always within arms' length, but he's always within our view. And the rules are strict - if he gets past the curb on the street, we immediately go inside. No playing around - INSIDE WE GO. He's only tested that theory twice because he HATES going inside. We don't have corner guards on our coffee table and we don't have fancy safety molding for our fireplace. He's knocked his head a few times on the table and guess what? He's more careful around the table. Granted, our table does not have sharp corners, but I've seen folks apply extensive childproofing to far less deadly dangers. I think a normal childhood is full of bumps and bruises.
And finally, I will probably let my kids run freely around the neighborhood when they are a little older. I will not, however, let them run around at the age of 4, as I did (not judging my parents, but OH.MY.GOD, I shudder at that now. I wasn't allowed to cross the street, but I was allowed to run around on our side of the street.) I just don't buy into the myth of Pervasive Stranger Danger that the media likes to force upon us. YES, oh YES, crappy, horrific things happen to children at the hands of strangers, but I don't believe they are the norm or as common as the media would lead us to think. The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges agrees and had the following to say:
"Contrary to the common assumption that abduction is a principal reason why children become missing, the NISMART-2 findings indicate that only a small minority of missing children were abducted, and most of these children were abducted by family members (9 percent of all caretaker missing children). Close to 3 percent of caretaker missing children were abducted by a nonfamily perpetrator; among these, an extremely small number (90) were victims of stereotypical kidnapping.”
Frankly, I've tried to have this conversation before and always got an emphatic, indignant "What if"?. Unfortunately, when someone starts off a discussion with a "What if", all reasonable debate is immediately nullified. How can you come with any response to a "What if"? Life is chock FULL of them and if you thought too hard about them, you would NEVER LEAVE YOUR HOUSE. I've also received the "one accident is one too many" answer. And yes, that is a hard one to argue. Never would I want to endanger my child, but damn, I don't want the to walk on eggshells their entire life. I don't want to be that mother paranoid of every scrape or bruise. I want my children to know that visceral thrill of doing a backflip on a trampoline - that brief, heart-stopping second where you are totally suspended in the air with your body contorted in ways you never knew possible. And no, I am not hard-hearted. I got teary eyed when my son got his first scraped knee - he totally wiped out on our sidewalk and cried in a dramatic fashion over the whole thing. It was NOT enjoyable and it really scared him. However, we cleaned him up and he wanted to immediately go back outside.
It's my job as a mother to encourage my children to face their fears and take on Life. It's a fine, thin, teeny line between Living and Living in Fear.