Sunday, January 6, 2013

how safe is too safe?

We got a trampoline. Being responsible parents, we looked into trampolines before getting one, spoke to other parents, looked at our kids and decided that one person should go on at a time. The kids were excited to put it up. But it sits there, mostly unused. When we have company, the kids look onto the backyard and go: ooh, a trampoline! Then we say, one child at a time! Then they go out there, and, just a short while later, nobody is jumping.

We had safety in mind when we decided on that rule. The funny thing is, I remember jumping for quite a bit longer in high school on one of those pre-net, springs poking out, trampolines. The reason I lasted that long is because I was jumping with a friend. We talked and we jumped. We did not worry about being safe, but we had camaraderie. It is boring to jump alone. It is boring to wait your turn. So the safe trampoline sits unused.

We just visited a safety house with a few other homeschoolers. The firefighter talked about different hazards, how to crawl out safely, stop, drop and roll, etc. Most of it made perfect sense. But there were a few things which made me wonder. One of them was to never use candles or to switch to a flameless kind. I light candles every Friday night. I keep them on the mantle. I do not let kids horse around them or to throw things. But to ban candles outright? My daughter is looking forward to the day that she will light her own. The boys take turns lighting the havdalah candle. The highlight of Chanukah is candlelighting. The highlight of our canyon trip was making the fire in the fireplace and building the grilling fire outdoors. Are we removing some joy from our kids' lives by making it so safe?

Another issue brought up was that small kids do not belong in the kitchen.lest the accidents happen. Yes, we do not want any burns or fires, but if the kids are not accustomed to being in the kitchen when they are younger and are eager to help, what will draw them back later? I was not taught how to cook because I was told not to mess with the stove. What happened was that I ended up with dirty dish duty, and I hated it! I still do, and I love my dishwasher, but more than that, I love that my kids unload it now. I would not put a tiny kid to stir a pot on the stove, but, within limits, kids can and should be in the kitchen. My daughter loves to help, and knows to stay far away when I am opening the stove. The boys like to put things in the microwave and toaster oven, with supervision.

When I asked the boys afterwards what was the most exciting part of the safety house, they unanimously said: the fire drill! There was darkness and Hollywood smoke and blaring alarms and they got to crawl on all fours and escape through the window down a swaying ladder all 6 feet up the air and place a call to 911. It was danger, albeit a staged one, that got them excited.

There is a recycling facility behind the farmer's market. We drop off our recycling there into huge dumpsters. The kids like to help: they get to carry crates to the appropriate dumpster, sort plastic, throw in glass bottles.  The cardboard compactor is on the other end of the parking lot. The highlight of the trip? Boys love to ride in the trunk with the cardboard boxes across the lot. The ride's length is a whopping 20 feet, and I am going slowly and everybody is totally safe. But there is this sense of buckling the rules and coolness and excitement. The rest of the time, the kids are paranoid about buckling up and sitting in carseats. But once in a while, for a brief time, it feels good to do something slightly dangerous.

I read how the playgrounds are nowadays so safe, that kids are either bored or invent their own, unsafe uses, like climbing on top of the structures to play. A few years ago, I was told of a girl who jumped from the roof of her garage onto the driveway and broke both of her legs. She was in fifth grade or so. I asked, why did she do it? The other kids said that she must have been dumb. Now I think that she wanted just a bit of adventure in her life.

Leonard Sax talks about manly "rites of passage" that are missing from our kids' and especially boys' lives. Those adrenaline rushes get replaced by TV and video games. Instead of kids experiencing a slightly difficult and dangerous situation, they simulate it.

These rites of passage can be simple: stay home alone while the parent runs an errand, climb a tree, play outside unsupervised, ride a bike down a hill that looks scary, sleep outdoors, feed your family for a day, build something with real hammer and nails, talk to a stranger in shul or a supermarket ( gasp!) while the parent is watching.

And the trampoline? I think we will modify to two kids at a time.

1 comment:

  1. Safely rules have gotten ridiculous because 1)Everybody is so worried about lawsuits and 2) TV news sensationalizes accidents and people get scared (not realizing that if it made the news then it is rare, and highly unlikely to happen).
    BTW, a good rule for 2 people (or more) on a trampoline is that they should be roughly the same height and weight. Don't let a little person share trampoline time with a big person.