As long as I live, I'll hear waterfalls and birds and winds sing. I'll interpret the rocks, learn the language of flood, storm, and the avalanche. I'll acquaint myself with the glaciers and wild gardens, and get as near the heart of the world as I can.
Independence: a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
One of the comments people often make about my children is how independent they are. This often takes the form of acting astonished that we allow them to do something by themselves, or of assuming that the boys are exceptional, and the same can’t be expected of other children, especially their own. It seems to me that this is largely a case of self-fulfilling prophecy; in so many ways, children give us just what we expect.
Here’s an example:
Christmas week of 2007, when the boys were 8 and 5 years old, we went cabin-camping at World’s End State Park in the Poconos region of Pennsylvania. One morning they took a turn flipping pancakes on the cabin’s tiny gas stove. Afterwards, Eaglepreneur showed pictures of the trip to friends, and was floored when they assumed the kids were just posed—“They’re not really cooking, right?” These conscientious parents felt that a hot stove should be off limits until at least age 13! Wow. I’m pretty sure I was doing most of the baking in my house by that age, not to mention heating up Swanson’s frozen chicken dinners in a real oven when I babysat younger neighbors. Does flipping flapjacks really seem that dangerous? It's clear in the photo that the photographer/parent was no more than a couple of feet away, after all. I think of cooking as a basic life skill, and one that’s absolutely necessary for lifelong healthy eating. I’m certain that 5-8 year olds easily understand the concepts involved: hot things can burn, be careful not to touch them, use an oven mitt. I also understand the concept that the sooner kids can make breakfast, the sooner mom can sleep in. (Still working on that one.)
We do let our kids do many things that might be dangerous. Climb jungle gyms. Climb rocks, climb trees.
Climb really tall trees. Climb on rocks along slippery shorelines. Go in small boats. Swim. Ride bicycles in New York City. (To be honest, that used to be pretty terrifying back in the ‘90s before I had kids, but all the new bike lanes and other traffic-calming measures have greatly improved things. It’s actually much less nerve-wracking biking with my kids in Brooklyn now than it was for Eaglepreneur and me as adults 15 years ago.)
Here’s another example. This summer Tree Kid participated in a rowboat race in Sorrento Harbor. He has had some experience in sailing dinghies, as well as a little experience in canoes, kayaks, and rowboats, and had just earned his Sailing merit badge at summer camp, where he also completed the Mile Swim. He was in the lead when he somehow lost one of his oarlocks overboard. But he didn’t panic for a moment—just figured out how to manage with one oar by using it as a paddle to make his way back to the dock. A lot of people (of any age) might have just stopped and waited for rescue. This wasn’t a serious situation, but that type of resourcefulness could make a huge difference in a real crisis. It is true that Tree Kid is exceptionally confident—but how do you think he got that way?
I’m not talking about teaching kids to swim by throwing them in the deep end. “Sink or swim” helps no one. We’re very conscientious about things like helmets, safety lights, and lifejackets. Learning to take reasonable safety precautions is an important aspect of learning to judge and manage risk. But you can’t learn to manage risks sensibly if you’re never allowed to take any. Being allowed—able—encouraged to challenge themselves and stretch a little is the only way kids can gain an essential life skill, without which we can only lead lives that are dull, boring and fearful.Share