As parents and grandparents, we work diligently to keep our children safe and out of danger.
What if exposing them to a bit of danger was, in fact, the best way to ensure their safety?
Don’t worry. I’m not suggesting we get our five-year-olds to skydive.
However, allowing kids a bit of risk-taking can help them understand safety limits. But there’s a catch.
HOW DANGER CAN KEEP KIDS SAFE – THE COMPLAINT
On May 2, 2018, a Puerto Rican Air National Guard military aircraft crashed and burst into flames shortly after take-off from a Georgia airport, killing all nine on board.
This was the same day that announced the first fatality in an e Coli breakout linked to Romain lettuce. More than 120 other cases were reported in 25 USA states.
That same day, thousands of children died from hunger-related causes. It may not have made headlines. But it happens – every, single day.
In a little corner of the Blue Mountains, Australia, the front page news that day was about a group of angry parents complaining about a newly renovated children’s playground.
The park, in Glenbrook, was upgraded earlier this year and reflects the local history, especially early forms of transport.
It features a horse sculpture called Henrietta, sandstone features sourced from upgrade projects on local roads, railway tracks to be used as balancing beams and two play structures based on water tanks in recognition that the town’s name was originally Watertank.
The new playground was officially opened on April 7.
The upgrade included a new fence where once there had been none.
This was one of the things that caused parent outrage. The new fence included two gaps which they claimed made it unsafe given its proximity to the Great Western Highway.
In scathing social media comments, some parents argued their children tripped over the railway line balancing beams, making them unsafe. Others argued their children kept trying to eat the rocks that were part of a water feature. Still, others attacked the metal sculpture “Henrietta’ because it became too hot to use in the sun.
Of course, not every parent was complaining. Many were delighted with the upgrade and every time I’ve been there with the Goddesses (who absolutely love it) I’ve seen only happy children. It is, after all, a playground for them.
However, following the outcry and a petition, the council replaced the fence gaps with child safety gates and cleaned up some of the rocks around the water feature, among other ‘improvements’.
HOW DANGER CAN KEEP KIDS SAFE
When we wrap our kids in cotton wool we take away their chances to learn and to become resilient.
Some schools in Western Australia are embracing an ‘anti cotton wool’ environment, with great results. Not only in the students’ ability to concentrate in class, but also in their resilience.
These schools are reporting happier healthier students who play more creatively and cooperatively. They have recognised that a little danger can keep kids safe.
Honeywood Primary School, in Perth’s southern suburbs, has “Wheels on Wednesday” every week, encouraging students to bring their bikes, scooters and skates to school.
The only rule? They need signed parental permission and to wear a helmet to spend recess and lunch riding and skating around the school grounds.
There were initially a few falls and collisions but, according to school Principal Maria Cook, the students soon got the hang of it.
“If we cocoon them too much then they never know what’s a safe risk and what’s an unsafe risk. It’s been really positive.”
I think kids need to learn how to manage a little bit of risk.
In the northern suburbs of Perth, West Greenwood Primary School encourages students to get creative with things such as milk crates, giant wooden spools and timber to make their own fun play equipment, such as pulley systems, swings and see-saws.
Principal Niel Smith said the school encourages students to be creative, to take risks and to analyse those risks.
“We tell them, if you’re going to build something you need to calculate that risk, you need to analyse whether that’s going to be safe or not, and you decide whether you’re going to do that or not.
Interestingly, injuries have reduced since the school implemented this program.
“No one has come to the office for ice packs, for sprains, for strains, for bumping their head on anything, and they’re really doing some quite out-there things.
“Students are becoming more resilient and getting on with it.”
This is how a little danger can keep kids safe.
HOW DANGER CAN KEEP KIDS SAFE – THE CATCH
I mentioned a catch when it comes to allowing a little danger to keep kids safe. Parents must be vigilant. Especially with little kids.
Fencing is only as good as the last person who closed the gate properly. This is evidenced by statistics.
One study found 74 per cent of backyard child drownings occurred in fenced pools, with inattentive adults, gates propped open or kids simply climbing over the fence. Another study found 20 per cent of three-year-olds and 62 per cent of four-year-olds can climb a 1.2 metre pool fence.
Fencing can have the effect of making parents complacent.
Fences are not 100 per cent safe. “Some children can defeat the gate or climb over the fence. Non-compliance with maintenance decreases the effectiveness of the fence, and so on.”
There is no substitute for watching out for our kids. In 2006, an eight-year-old girl drowned at Glenbrook Swimming Pool during a school excursion. She was under the supervision of 15 teachers, four teachers’ aides and four lifeguards.
HOW DANGER CAN KEEP KIDS SAFE – PARENTAL RESPONSIBILITY
It can happen in an instant, that child accident that can haunt you for life.
I remember walking into my kitchen when my son was two and a half years old to see him seconds away from placing a metal knife into a plugged-in toaster.
And another time when he still could not walk but managed to somehow climb onto our carport roof, teetering on the edge of a four-metre drop onto the cement driveway.
His brother actually fell that distance from a friend’s balcony. I was not watching. His little head hit the ground right between a tree stump and a giant boulder. Somehow, he was uninjured.
I still feel sick thinking about it and never forget to thank the Universe for my save ….’there but for the grace of God’.
There were fewer distractions back then. No smartphones for starters.
As a parent, I felt the buck stopped with me. If I took my children to a park, I’d watch them to ensure their safety. I didn’t expect town planners to create a padded room environment that took all chance of learning away.
It’s time for parents to step up and be accountable. To take responsibility and be diligent while giving their kids the space to learn safe limits.
HOW DANGER CAN KEEP KIDS SAFE – THE PARK
If a child trips over those railway tracks at Glenbrook Park, they’ll learn to watch where they are running/walking. This could save them from bigger grief in the future.
If the child tries to climb a metal sculpture that has heated up in the Aussie sunshine, they will learn to test things carefully first.
If a child tries to eat rocks, or run onto a road, it’s time for the responsible parent to step in and help the child understand those dangers.
We need to be teaching our children to take responsibility for their own safety, Sometimes, they need a few scrapes to learn this. Sometimes they need parental intervention.
If we teach our children resilience and safe risk-taking, maybe we can do away with ridiculous things such as “smombie” lights.
What are your thoughts?
Have a gleeful week, Tamuria.