The 12-year-old boy came home from school and said he wanted to build me a firepit in the backyard. He had done his research and figured out what tools he would need and how much digging it would require.
I was so proud. But . . . this would require him to wield a shovel with a pointy end. It would require him to lug around big rocks that might drop on his toes. When he was done, there would be chopping of wood and playing with fire.
I could just run to the store and get a cheap metal firepit.
And then that story from the latest issue of The Atlantic, “The Overprotected Kid,” started making the rounds: “A preoccupation with safety has stripped childhood of independence, risk-taking and discovery … Actions that would have been considered paranoid in the ’70s — walking third-graders to school, forbidding your kid to play ball in the street, going down the slide with your child in your lap — are now routine . . . our fear of children being harmed may result in more fearful children and increased levels of psychopathology.”
Yikes. By all appearances, my two kids are healthy, smart and well-adjusted. But are they healthy, smart and well-adjusted enough?
When they were young, we lived on a street with no sidewalks and too much traffic. They couldn’t ride their bikes around the neighborhood. The route to school was dangerous enough in a car — no way they could walk there.
They couldn’t walk to the library or the store, either; that would have required crossing a six-lane state highway.
When my son got his first BB gun, I wouldn’t let him shoot it unless he was wearing protective eye gear.
They managed to find dangerous situations anyway.
My daughter climbed any tree she could. She eventually fell out of one.
My son almost put his eye out the day he and the boy next door decided to play with a 7-foot-long fallen tree branch. “Here, you hold it up straight while I karate-kick it.” Our doctor, who errs on the side of caution, sent my son to have an MRI to make sure he hadn’t broken his orbital socket.
Those same two boys built a fort of discarded boards studded with rusty nails (tetanus alert!), strung up an elaborate booby trap system between tree branches (strangling alert!) and dug a giant hole in the yard (tripping alert!).
My kids played in puddles (parasite alert!), explored the system of concrete drainage ditches that run through our old neighborhood (drowning alert!) and went to the park by themselves (stranger danger!).
Now that they are older, they are encountering different dangerous situations (learner’s permit!).
Just the other day, I handed my son my debit card and sent him into the store all by himself to buy snacks. “When the machine asked you if you wanted cash back, you did push ‘no,’ didn’t you?”
I never did make it to the hardware store to buy a firepit. Instead, my son and I scouted out the backyard and picked out the best spot for him to dig.
Contact Lisa Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org