My 10-year-old daughter Morgan, “made the news” earlier this summer. Okay, perhaps it doesn’t count because it was her columnist father using her stick-whittling finger injury to make a point about parental liability. I had admitted my role in giving the little girl a very sharp pocket knife for Christmas which, in hindsight, might not have been the very best gift absent hawk-like supervision. All ended well, though – the small cut healed without incident.
A sharp knife in the hands of an unsupervised child is a problem because children don’t have the life experience necessary to appreciate risk and consequences. Without that appreciation, children are less careful in a potentially dangerous situation than they need to be.
We, the parents, supervise to ensure that there is a level of care that meets up with the risk and consequences. We do that until a child matures to the point of gaining their own appreciation. Children crossing the street is an example. Unsupervised small children would dart into a street having no regard for the risk that a car could unexpectedly show up and mow them down with very serious consequences. Parents hold hands and continually harp about the risks until our children gradually mature to the point of cautiously looking both ways before crossing.
Sometimes we forget how completely clueless children can be about risk and consequences. The “crossing the road thing” is obvious, as is the kitchen stove, power tools, and now for me, the sharp pocket knife. The level of cluelessness that can arise in other circumstances can be less obvious.
I am reminded of the look of shock and horror on my mother’s face. We were holidaying at Niagara Falls and I had hopped over a barrier fence to get around a throng of other tourists. The barrier separated us tourists from a cliff. In my inexperienced mind of a youngster who didn’t appreciate risk and consequences, it didn’t seem dangerous at all to me to run along the top of the cliff for a short spell.
Morgan had the benefit of a similar look of shock and horror last week, during another camping trip.
We were camping at Deception Pass State Park in Washington State, a beautiful park on Whidbey Island on the coast of the Pacific Ocean. Our campsite was lovely, and included the customary campfire apparatus surrounded by a very safe distance of dirt before you got to the 2-300 year old Douglas Fir trees and underbrush.
Morgan was playing with another brilliant Christmas gift: a flint and steel kit. She sat in the dirt - strike, strike, striking the thing making pathetic little sparks to light bits of paper towel arranged on a flat piece of firewood. There was no way she was going to succeed. Her spirit was strong, though, so away she continued.
I finally decided to show her how it’s done. Strike, strike, strike. Beads of sweat formed. “Daddy, why are you so pathetic” were the words I figured might be going through her mind. I finally figured out how to scrape up enough magnesium flakes for ignition and we got a moment or two of flame. I then left the pile of flakes in Morgan’s hands to see if she could make her own moment or two of flame.
She was better at it than I expected she would be.
The look of horror came when Morgan approached me from the bush, sporting a look of casual concern, pointing to the wisp of smoke coming from the underbrush at the base of a Douglas Fir. The darling had managed to make a little flame with paper towel and decided to bring the little fire with her for a wander into the bush. It slipped off the piece of firewood.
I leapt into action, though it turned out the wisp of smoke wouldn’t have amounted to anything anyway. How’s that for a lack of insight into risk and consequences. Yes, on both our parts. “Daddy, why are you so pathetic” might be going through your mind right now.
Now I turn preacher. It is my experience as a personal injury lawyer that gives me an appreciation (that the travelling public does not have) about the risk and consequences of driving without paying full attention to the road. The regular stream of misleading media reports, of “no injuries” or “minor injuries” based only on the lack of symptoms at the scene of a collision leads the travelling public into less and less appreciation of risks and consequences. As a personal injury lawyer I see what happens the next day, and sometimes for the rest of a collision victim’s life.
I wish I could be there to supervise everyone behind the wheel who day dreams, talks on a cell phone (hand held or hands free), or does other distracting behaviour. I can’t be, so I will “continually harp” so long as there are newspapers or web sites who will publish my preaching.