Lately there have been a lot of media articles, books and such that have begun to shed light on the societal over-protectiveness of children. There are books like The Dangerous Book for Boys, Too Safe for Their Own Good: How Risk and Responsibility Help Teens Thrive and the video mini-lecture Five Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Kids Do. It's something I've always felt intuitively -- we don't do our children any favours when we protect them from every last bit of risk.
When we protect our kids from all danger, we impoverish their experience. A Dora the Explorer plastic toy is not going to enrich our kids' lives the same way playing with fire or climbing trees will. When we protect our kids we're telling them they can't be trusted. Who is to blame if they live down to our expectations? And besides, if we don't give them danger, and help them learn the skills they need to assess and manage risk, they'll find danger anyway -- without those skills.
The two really nasty children's knife-wounds I've sewed up in ERs were in children who had explicitly been told never to touch sharp knives. Not surprisingly, these kids' use of knives was sneaky and unskilled, and they had no idea how to keep themselves safe with a blade. They only knew they were doing something forbidden; they had no competence, no realistic confidence in their ability to manage the risks of what they were doing -- they were operating on a rush based on a childish sense of invincibility.
By giving our children approval, support and guidance as they encounter danger, we're really keeping them safe. We're giving them skills to assess risk, helping them learn techniques to minimize it, an providing an open trusting relationship that allows them to feel confident and powerful while exercising good sense.