I posted a photo on Facebook of my son, then 3 years old, chopping wood with a hatchet. I didn’t think anything about it other than it was an adorable picture. He was concentrating so hard, his tongue poking out of the corner of his mouth, and you could tell he was very into it and being very careful. One family member jokingly made a comment about calling social services because he was playing with a hatchet. I was gobsmacked. Social services?? Whoa!!
I know she was joking and had no intention of ACTUALLY calling them, but it brought me up short and made me question both how I parent and what I share about how I parent. Was it wrong of me to allow him to try to cut sticks with a hatchet? Was I putting him in danger? Would someone actually report me to social services based on a picture on my newsfeed?
With every mundane moment of every child’s life being shared with the multitudes via social media, the “concerned citizens brigade” is out in force, placing our parenting under a microscope, ready to hop into action at the slightest perceived misstep. I regularly see reports of families being reported to the police or social services for allowing their children to play outside unattended or walk home from school or a local park, and it always elicits from me a “WTF!”
Seriously. WTF, people. W. T. F.
Take my hatchet wielding child photo. It is obvious from the picture that I was RIGHT THERE, like a foot from him. His dad was also RIGHT THERE, teaching him how to be safe. We were being responsible while also allowing our son the freedom to take part in a risky activity. Because risk taking is IMPORTANT to child development. It’s vital to problem-solving skills and critical thinking. Not to mention the confidence boost he got from doing important work and, the exercise in hand-eye coordination from having to hit the small sticks in the right place to make them break add up to a pretty dang good thing for him to be doing. Beneficial. Developmentally appropriate.
Dangerous? Sure, a little.
But if we never let our children partake in risky behavior, never let them learn how to trust themselves in tricky situations, how can we expect them to do it when they aren’t children anymore? And what if we DO allow our kids to take risks? How do we deal with people who don’t understand?
After I took down the picture of him with the hatchet, I had to decide where to draw the line on what I share with people in my social media networks. My friends list is very small and I only add people I know personally and prefer to add only people I’ve actually met in real life. I’m careful about who I add and I curate my friends list to make sure only certain people see certain things. I’m probably a little paranoid, go a little overboard, but, better safe than sorry, right? Even so, I decided to only share photos that are in no way controversial. Hatchet? Nope. Climbing things not intended for climbing? Not a chance. Using real tools, like saws and hammers? Nuh uh.
And STILL I worry.
There is a movement to reintroduce risk taking to play, to allow children the opportunity to problem solve and use critical thinking skills and even (gasp) get hurt every once in awhile. There are huge playgrounds filled with “junk”, known as Adventure Playgrounds, popping up all over the world. Some of them don’t even allow parents to go in with the kids, so it’s just packs of children learning how to be in a group, how to work together to achieve goals, and how to solve problems. It sounds a little Lord of the Flies, but it’s not. It’s an amazing concept, allowing children to have the independence to play, freely and without restriction. There are far fewer injuries than anyone expected, and even so, the benefits definitely outweigh the risks. With luck, these adventure playgrounds will move into the mainstream and become prevalent and popular across the country, allowing parents to learn to trust their children and everyone else to trust parents.
About the Author
Kristi Pahr is a stay at home mom with two small boys and a very messy house. She and her family raise goats and pigs and she pretends to know something about homesteading. She went to college in the 90s and didn’t learn much, but she met her husband there, so it wasn’t a total waste of time. They were married a short time later and have spent the last 16 years trying to “settle down” and “be normal”. It’s been a huge and glorious mess. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter or her blog.