We’re not talking about clueless kids who don’t know the danger of playing with fire or electricity. We are not talking about tiny tots who accidentally fall and bump their head on a table corner. For little children just beginning to take their first steps exploring their home, child proofing the house would usually prevent these mishaps.
No, we’re talking about older children who know where danger lies but who deliberately take risks in order to experience a thrill. Call them thrill-seekers if you like, or daredevils or highly curious kids who don’t think of consequences before engaging in reckless stunts.
Several male friends of mine told me recently that the dumbest and most dangerous thing they ever did as kids was jumping off from unsafe heights such as the first floor balcony of their home, school building or roof tops to the ground below, just to test their athletic prowess. For safety measures, one even said he jumped off while wearing a plastic bag on his head as a makeshift parachute! He laughs about it today but like the rest of his “fellow jumpers”, he was about nine or 10 at the time.
One hurdler said he jumped across wide monsoon drains just to challenge himself while another disclosed he once jumped off a moving bus for fun. Still one more said he just felt the urge to climb to the top of a very high wardrobe in his house just so he could fling himself off into space. He hit his head at the top corner of the bedroom door on the way down. Luckily he wasn’t badly injured. He said he was about seven at the time.
While jumping seems to be boys’ most favourite impromptu sport, girls also did silly things. One friend said she and her friends were playing in a playground when they spotted a beehive hanging from a tree. They decided to climb up to poke it. Needless to say, the entire group was attacked and got badly stung by the angry swarm. They ran home crying and had to be hospitalised after that.
Literally Shock ‘Sendiri’
In the case of toying with electricity, when I was about 10, I purposely poked my finger into an electric socket. I knew it was dangerous but I wanted to feel what electrocution felt like. Fortunately, I couldn’t poke my finger deep enough or I wouldn’t be here to tell the tale today. However, an ex-colleague of mine, now 34, was more “successful” in his endeavour. He was 13 when he, “knowingly and purposely touched an improperly grounded lamppost after going swimming to ensure maximum electrocution.”
Those were his words exactly.
He said he blacked out after that. “Couldn’t feel my arms and legs for hours after I came to”. When I asked why he did it, he answered: “For science”.
As a parent, it is frightening to know that your kid may one day do the unthinkable and hurt himself in the attempt to push his boundaries and mortality. Children are high-energy, over confident, full of derring-do and curious. Not all kids will want to take risks but many do and even though you may have done these dastardly deeds yourself, you don’t want to see your children emulating you in this area. We asked our consultant psychologist Joyce Hue to comment on how to harness this impulse positively. This is what she says:
By: Joyce HueKids are curious. They are always getting themselves into trouble and then needing their parents to bail them out. But it is these exact traits that will get them to grow into wise and amazing adults.
I’ve seen parents who try to control their young children a little too much. They don’t allow them to walk bare foot on the grass (at home). Parents are afraid their child will get infected by germs or get cut by a piece of glass. But if it’s the grass in your own home, and you know there wouldn’t be glass in it, please let them go barefoot. Let them step on a pebble. Let it hurt a little and then you can teach them the meaning of cause and effect. (Example ─ If you are not careful, then you might get hurt).
Once they know what the little pain is, and how unpleasant it is, their brain will automatically keep them away from being exposed to bigger pains. No matter how advanced our lives are, we still have a primitive brain and one of its sole purposes is to keep us safe.
Rules and lecturing often fall on deaf ears, alongside repeating ineffective words like “No” or “Don’t”. The mind of an inquisitive child doesn’t accept negatives so it doesn’t recognise the word DON’T. Guess what they will do next? The best way is to use positive words and explain your rationale to them while encouraging them to question themselves if they are willing to accept the consequences of their actions. Even as adults, when someone says, DON’T OPEN THIS EMAIL, what is the one thing that you would want to do?
Restriction and Rebellion
A child that is too restricted, will want to lash out when given the opportunity. A child with too strict a parent, will start to rebel when they are able too. Even an adult that is micro-manged by a boss would tend to react negatively when no one is watching. So let us strive to have a more open concept of parenting where we can discuss with our children about their daily activities or their intentions and give constructive feedback where necessary.
Boys Will Be Boys
Parenting styles aside, there will always be some things that we cannot control; our developmental patterns. It is true when they say “Boys will be boys”. Boys tend to be naughtier and more prone to dangerous acts because their brains develop differently than that of girls. Their more risk-taking behaviours could also be due to higher levels of testosterone hormones and lower levels of serotonin (a calming hormone) as compared to girls.
We cannot fight nature against nurture. Thus, parents should then learn to understand their children better. If you know your child is the mischievous type who might engage in “curiosity-kills-the-cat” activities, give them a safe space or activity to explore, experiment and satisfy their inquisitiveness.
Vent the Right Way
Ask dad to engage in some simple home science experiments, for example: What happens if you drop a water balloon from the 20th floor of our apartment.
If your child is full of energy and starts making your living room or compound into an obstacle course, help them channel out their energy in the right way by signing them up for martial arts classes. If they like to talk a lot and tend to befriend strangers (which is scary in today’s society), let them vent out all those expressive energy in drama classes.
Parents play the most important role in keeping their kids safe. Watching out for them so they do not hurt themselves is of course important. But equally important is to recognize that prevention is better than cure, and for older kids, this might mean teaching child safety through the mind.