Danger Can Be…Educational?


There’s a reason that one of the first words  babies learn is “no”. No is a safe word, a word that keeps people out of trouble. “No, don’t touch that hot stove!” “No, we don’t run in the middle of the road when a car is coming!” “No, you don’t hit!” “No, we don’t spit out our food in public!” No is the word that holds the social fabric together. No is a word that keeps people alive. Understandably, we hear a lot of “no” in a day.

So when I first saw Gever Tulley and Julie Spiegler’s book 50 Dangerous Things (you should let your children do), I thought it was a joke. The book cover has a picture of a beehive, a slingshot, a child wielding a spear, and a campfire. It looks like a how-to guide for Lord of the Flies mayhem. A guaranteed trip tot he emergency room. A potential lawsuit. There are good reasons for parents to restrict the things that their children do. As my own mother used to tell me, “If I didn’t care I’d let you do whatever you wanted!” What Tulley argues, however, is that dangerous things are part of life and are actually really cool, as long as you know how to manage them.

Lawsuits and hospital visits and fire, oh my! How much danger is too much?

Among Tulley’s suggestions for things you should let your child do (with proper supervision!) are licking a battery to taste electricity, whittling, driving a car, and cooking a hot dog in a dishwasher. But is their any real benefit to giving your child the opportunity to try something dangerous? There very well may be. By allowing kids to try new things, we spark their creativity. The question of “what would happen if I licked a battery” is tested, and an answer is found. This is the foundation to all learning: the building of curiosity. As college admissions counselor Eugene S. Wilson once said, “Only the curious will learn and only the resolute will overcome the obstacles to learning.” Give your child’s curiosity a chance to flourish, and try something new with them. Some of the best childhood memories I have involve times when danger was involved, like building and firing a homemade potato gun or throwing an entire dried-out Christmas tree on a bonfire. I truly believe that while these things were cool, they also taught me to follow through on my curiosities rather than just allowing them to fade away.

So while Tulley’s activities may not strike a chord with you, the message all parents can take away from the book is that children should be given chances to explore, and these explorations can become family events.

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