Why I Vow To Put My Child in Danger (Just Not Too Much)

Health & Wellness on 05.24.11
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Image Credit: Dianna, used under Creative Commons license.

Some time back I wrote that, prior to becoming a parent, one of my biggest fears was dealing with all the pee and poop. I may have been exaggerating for effect. Because, like any parent, my biggest fears really revolved around death, injury, mishap or other calamities befalling my children. I just couldn't get my head around how we can still send our kids out into the dangerous and risky world we live in, when we know all the things that can go wrong? Yet that's exactly what we must do.

Exploration Involves Risk

When I was around eleven or twelve, my friends and I would pack a lunch, get on our bikes, and take off for long bike rides in the surrounding countryside. Often we'd cover 20 miles or more, on narrow country roads. And my parents would wave us off happily without, I assumed at the time, a care in the world. Now, as a parent myself, I realize what a nonsense this assumption was. I suspect my parents where as anxious as I would be - yet they encouraged us to go anyway. (They did of course insist on us wearing helmets, though these sometimes ended up hidden in a neighbor's bush until we returned home.)

Balancing Safety and Freedom

This balancing act between allowing your children to explore the world and the desire to keep them safe has fascinated me recently. My own daughter is only 18 months old, and already I see her testing what is safe, what's not, and what the consequences are. From swinging on our stair gate, to climbing on a pile of library books, she is taking risks, experiencing consequences, and learning in the process.

Discriminating Between Risk and Danger

Obviously there are dangers that are unquestionably worth avoiding - from hot stoves to knives to strangers' dogs to firearms, the role of the parent is to guard their child from real harm. But then there are falls from climbing frames, bumps on the head from coffee tables, and the scratched up knees that are - in moderation - a part and parcel of growing up. Differentiating where the boundaries lie, however, is not always a cut-and-dry matter. I have friends whose kids are fearless, who will climb on anything, come crashing down hard, and then soldier on as their parents watch calmly from the sidelines. And then I have friends who will seemingly do anything to prevent their babies from hurting themselves or feeling pain. I can understand both approaches. I just can't quite figure out where on this spectrum of parenting risk tolerance I stand.

I have to remind myself that this challenge will only get harder when the risks become more real, and more serious. If I'm already debating whether to say anything as my daughter crawls under the coffee table, what the heck am I going to do when she starts dating!? But from beekeeping to bikes to travel to dating, I want my daughter to experience life and all the fun, excitement and even danger that it holds. I just hope I am able to let her do that, to give her the tools to understand risk. And I hope I won't worry too much when I find her helmet hidden in the neighbors' bushes. She'll be back soon to claim it. I hope.

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