There’s been a lot of attention paid to fear lately. So, I got wondering just how we determine what is dangerous, what is to be feared. In social psychology the literature focuses on “risk” and how we perceive what is risky. Whatever you call it, when you feel afraid, how have you gotten there? How do you decide what’s dangerous; what’s risky?
Ever even think about it before?
At first glance, what’s dangerous to me is surely dangerous to you, too.
Ah, but let us take a closer look, shall we?
Consider the presents given to an eight year old.
- A doll
- A pocketknife
- A machete
- A rifle
Depending on where you live, any one of these can be an acceptable gift; it depends on your interpretation of danger, your perception of the risk involved. And that, as I’m sure you’ve surmised by now, depends on your culture.
For the most part!
Yes, there are individual differences, the James Dean types who have to race every car, no matter the consequences.
And there are universal agreements that certain things are always too dangerous to consider, like jumping off the Golden Gate bridge or playing Russian roulette with a loaded gun.
Where does eating wild mushrooms fall, I wonder? Or not having your child vaccinated? Or having your child vaccinated? That will wait for a future post, another one on those annoying facts that mess with our otherwise neatly ordered belief system.
Mostly, it seems to me, we don’t stop to fully analyze the risks we take; nor the ones from which we shy. That bear can run fast, you know, and we’re programmed to size it up quickly and react. “Fight, flee, or freeze” is in our hardwiring. Pick one!
But bears are not what we deal with generally. (I actually do; but that’s another story). Instead, we deal with …. what? I’ll let you fill it in.
And, more to the point of this post, how do those fears impact what you allow your children to do?
It’s different, isn’t it, when it involves our children. We as adults do lots of things we’d never dream of letting our children do.
So hang on to your certainty, we’re going for a ride thanks to Gever Tulley, who wrote a fun little book, Fifty Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Kid Do.
Yes, I’d not heard of him either, so I Googled him. (Now I’ve got his book for each of my sons this Christmas — i.e., the grandchildren).
According to Tulley’s Wikipedia page, he’s “an American writer, speaker, educator, entrepreneur, and computer scientist. He is the founder of the Brightworks School, Tinkering School, the non-profit Institute for Applied Tinkering, and educational kit maker Tinkering Labs.” And what he has to say is not only entertaining, it’s provocative. And, given my love of all things culturally determined, he got my attention.
Consider this conversation Tulley had with a Wyoming schoolteacher as she describes a typical weekend for her kids.
I know. I’m an east coast city girl. That was a shocker for me too.
I read through Tulley’s list of 50 dangerous things (it’s the Table of Contents) when the books arrived and the one that popped out at me: Let him or her walk home from school, which reminded me of the question in last week’s Summer Tag post about a summertime childhood memory.
Here’s how I initially answered that question, before deciding to hold off and make it the topic for today.
I’m the only child of a single mom who left for work each morning before I woke up. So, my job from age seven on, was to get myself up and out. During the school year, that meant up, dressed, and off to the neighbor’s for breakfast, followed by my walking a few blocks to school.
What was different in the summer after age nine was the “out” part (and I could fix my own breakfast by then).
Rather than off to school, in summer I was off to the YMCA where I’d join a busload of campers to Camp Dawson for the day. Nothing unusual about that. It was getting to the Y, at ages nine, ten, eleven, and twelve.
I’d catch the local city bus and then the subway to Newark, NJ. From there I walked a few blocks to the Y. By myself. I thought nothing of it at the time; it was just what I did.
When I shared that story at my 50th high school reunion a few years ago, we wound up telling competing stories that showed how independent we all were, “free range parenting” we’d call it today. This has quickly become my favorite story to tell younger folks who have a very different reaction than my classmates. Usually they gasp, then express some concern that I was a neglected child.
No, I quickly tell them. That’s what kids did back then. And I feel rather proud.
I’d ridden city busses with my grandmother who hadn’t yet learned to drive (she’d get her driver’s license when I was in 7th grade). I was used to it. I knew which was the right bus or train to take. I just did it.
At what age did you let your child take a city bus by herself?
At what age could she walk to school alone? Is that older than walking home alone?
At what age might she make her own breakfast and get herself off to school if needed?
I would guess you’re saying “Times are different now!” And, yes they are. They are actually safer. Yup. The Center for Disease Control collects data on child abductions and deaths; the FBI has been collecting this data for decades now; even the National Highway and Traffic Administration agrees:
There’s never been a safer time to be a kid in America.
Here are the facts, as summarized for us by the Washington Post in a 2015 article.
Child mortality rates fell by 50% between 1990 and 2015
Reports of missing children are down 40% since 1997
And child pedestrian deaths dropped by more than 66% between 1993 and 2013.
And this in an era when the population is growing.
The bottom line: If it was safe enough for you to play unsupervised outside when you were a kid, it’s even safer for your own child to do so today.
Never mind your grandchildren.
Yet we hang on to the notion that “it’s dangerous out there” and hold their hands tightly. Why? What is it about fear that holds such a tenacious grip on our minds?
National Public Radio did a story recently on “free-range kids” and what has become the “Let Grow” movement. Among the stories of parents being arrested for allowing their children to play unsupervised or walk to school alone, they listed the many advantages for the child in having the chance to figure things out on their own, to fail, to become resilient. Perhaps you heard it, too? Yes, the child is better off when allowed to free range a bit.
You also might enjoy Gever Tulley’s 10-minute TEDx Midwest talk on “Five Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Child Do.” It’s funny, too.
How about you? What’s a “dangerous” activity you or your kids did once upon a time?