Let five-year-olds play with knives?

North Americans have the wrong idea about parenting, according to one mom.

By Jenny Charlesworth
Let five-year-olds play with knives?

I grew up roaming the neighbourhood cul-de-sac with my seven-year-old counterparts, splashing around in creek beds and playing Where the Wild Things Are every chance I got. Maybe you did, too?

Most of us have similar stories as young pups; we ran free until it was dinnertime or someone skinned their knee. So why is it that as parents, so many people coddle their kids, forbidding them to participate in the very activities that once defined childhood?

Christine Gross-Loh, author of Parenting Without Borders: Surprising Lessons Parents Around the World Can Teach Us, is the latest to say enough is enough when it comes to this boy-in-the-bubble parenting strategy. "American parents like me (despite our very best intentions) have gotten it all backwards. Why? We need to let three-year-olds climb trees and five-year-olds use knives," she writes for Huffington Post in her blog, Have American Parents Got It Backwards?

If you're outraged by Gross-Loh's proposition, consider the findings of Ellen Hansen Sandseter, a Norwegian researcher at Queen Maud University in Norway: "The relaxed approach to risk-taking and safety actually keeps our children safer by honing their judgment about what they're capable of. Children are drawn to the things we parents fear: high places, water, wandering far away, dangerous sharp tools. Our instinct is to keep them safe by childproofing their lives. But 'the most important safety protection you can give a child is to let them take... risks.'"

Now, I'm not advocating for giving a bunch of preschoolers pocketknives, but I agree with Gross-Loh when she says North Americans need to take a cue from other cultures when it comes to parenting. Take the Finns for example. Their education system includes "a late start to academics (children do not begin any formal academics until they are seven years old), frequent breaks for outdoor time, shorter school hours and more variety of classes than in the US." Or how about the French, who believe the art of self-control comes from giving your child the opportunity to feel frustration rather than catering to their every whim?

I can't imagine how scary it is to unleash your little one and send them off into the big bad world (Is the ice cream truck man trust-worthy? Will they look both ways? What about that poison ivy?). But it seems worse to lament a childhood they'll never know.

Are North American parents over-protective?

This article was originally published on May 14, 2013

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