When you don’t want to raise sissies

Even though the modern world isn’t any more dangerous than it was thirty or forty years ago, it feels like a more perilous place. Or, more accurately, we inhabit the world today in a way that’s much more risk averse; for a variety of very interesting and nuanced reasons, our tolerance for risk, especially concerning our children’s safety, has steadily declined.

So we remove jungle gyms from playgrounds, ban football at recess, prohibit knives (even the butter variety) at school, and would rather have our kids playing with an iPad than rummaging through the garage or roaming around the neighborhood.

Unfortunately, as we discussed in-depth earlier this year, when you control for one set of risks, another simply arises in its place. In this case, in trying to prevent some bruises and broken bones, we also inhibit our children’s development of autonomy, competence, confidence, and resilience. In pulling them back from firsthand experiences, from handling tangible materials and demonstrating concrete efficacy, we ensconce them in a life of abstraction rather than action. By insisting on doing everything ourselves, because we can do things better and more safely, we deprive kids of the chance to make and test observations, to experiment and tinker, to fail and bounce back. In treating everything like a major risk, we prevent kids from learning how to judge the truly dangerous, from the simply unfamiliar.

Fortunately, we can restore the positive traits that have been smothered by overprotective parenting, by restoring some of the “dangerous” activities that have lately gone missing from childhood. The suggestions below on this score were taken both from 50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do), as well as memories from my own more “free range” childhood. If you grew up a few decades back, these activities may seem “obvious” to you, but they’re less a part of kids’ lives today, and hopefully these reminders can help spark their revival.

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18 Responses to When you don’t want to raise sissies

  1. Steve says:

    The bit about “holding your arm out of the car window” is one that I wouldn’t have thought of. When we did that, we inevitably figured out that placing your hand in one direction, you could make it go up and down etc. My father used to call this “aeropalmics”.

  2. One of the many Bills says:

    That’s a excellent article. Growing up in the 50’s was a great time. By this time 60 years ago I would have a huge bag of fireworks. My dad would take me to the Boy Scout Fireworks Stand and for 10 bucks we would have two or three grocery bags full of big fun. All of those items mentioned were common ways to have fun and learn. What a difference between then and now. If I sat inside to long my old man would kick me out. Great memories

  3. Family Tradition says:

    Swim in the local pond. Sneaking in optional. Buy your boy an axe and put him to work. Let them drive a tractor and brush-hog. I made a ton of money at 13 mowing and haying the neighborhood farm lands.

    I loved the one on letting a child to drive. I was fully ready for a license at 13, but had to wait.

  4. Trib says:

    Walk the railroad track. Catch Horny toads. (a Texas lizard) Ride bikes all day. Play unorganized baseball. Sneak into the construction site tool shed and lush over the pin up calendar. Get in a fist fight and wear the blood wound as a badge of courage. Tramp thru the woods and get lost then find your way home after dark. No one would notice. Handout at the town square and watch the cars cruise by. Naming the the year make and model of each car and some times know the engine type.. when your dad let you work on his car even when you couldn’t drive yet. Drive your granddad’s Farm all. The 50s and 60s were good. .

  5. yep yep! luis says:

    Hell, falling down, getting bruised/ bloody up, jumping off buildings, hanging off the back of buses, riding atop of trains, that was the fun we had, being young and stupid.

  6. California southpaw says:

    Nice starter list. I have two boys. When they were kids and we lived in the country we took it to the next level-and then some. For better or worse. There were many “don’t tell Mom’s” from me, and a few “get inside, close up the house and don’t answer the door”.
    All survived. We have the scars and skills to prove it, and there ain’t a nary a hothouse flower under my roof to this day.

  7. why says:

    Make mudpies, then eat or throw them. Get COVERED in mud. All of this “anti-bacterial” soap crap is dropping our immune systems, and can even cause “sissification” (check out how triclosan, active ingredient in anti-bacterial soaps, affects the body – here, https://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm378393.htm and here http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/five-reasons-why-you-should-probably-stop-using-antibacterial-soap-180948078/ )

  8. Rob in Katy says:

    No jumping off a roof, playing tag on the 2nd story roof, 10 speed bike tag, wtf am I still alive.

  9. FriscoKid says:

    Anything out of Art of Manliness is bound to be solid. Been a fan of theirs for years. Thanks for posting, Wirecutter.

  10. usexpat says:

    I raised my son in Australia where all of these activities are illegal. Sticking your hand out the window of a car or even resting your elbow in the window ledge included. A slingshot or BB gun is a jail-able offense. A truly pussy-ized government.
    Managed to get him to the US enough so he could do them all. He lived and turned out great.

  11. Newvegasbadger says:

    Kenny, thanks for this post Damn, this does bring back a lot of memories. When I was a kid, there was an apple tree in the back yard. I had the best playground any kid could want to have just block or so away. There was some train track and next to it a concert making company.
    Who needs a sandbox when you have a large mound of sand to play on. There were mounds of small rocks, just right for fossil hunting. There was the long bike rides, going exploring listening to WLS (Chicago) or WOKY (Milwaukee), top 40 stations at that time, on the transistor radio.

  12. Bob M says:

    Not a thing on that list I didn’t do, plus a lot of others. Hell, me and my friends would gather up our bows and arrows ( I had a classy 45 lb. recurve), our .22’s, the machetes, Bowie knives, pocket knives and other assorted necessities (canteen, candy bars, etc.) and go rattlesnake hunting. Our one standing order: “Be home by dark”.

  13. Timbo says:

    All of those, and many more!
    Cardboard wings are off the garage should have worked with my light frame!

  14. Chuck says:

    I’ve got 2 girls and have covered everything on this list that they’re interested in. I let the girls wander as much as living at the intersection of 2 fairly major roads will allow.

    It amazes me that what is considered neglectful parenting nowadays is what was normal when I was growing up in the late 70’s – early 80’s.

  15. David says:

    My Dad (God Bless him) gave me a Bowie Knife at age 6. At age 7 I knew how to shoot a 22 and draw a bow and hit things with it fairly consistently.

    I did the same for the Son & Heir. (I am still amazed that I was not reported and thrown into jail.) He turned out all right even if he did became a Lawyer.

  16. C.R. says:

    If you have a boy,or boys ,get a copy of the book “A Dangerous Book for Boys .It has all kinds of really good information in it. Everything from Dog training , to building a tree house ,to first aid to the rank of poker hands ! All god info.I had a couple copies that went to my Nephew,and a good friends kids . I might need a copy just for personal reference(never know when you might need to build a tree fort !)

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