Risk and responsibility

Talking with friends last night, the subject drifted to the things that we did when we were kids that probably wouldn’t be allowed for kids today. We used to take inner tubes to the river and spend the day floating downstream. We made tree forts high in trees with questionable structural supports. We jumped on the trampoline without any safety net. And we rode or bicycles everywhere, including as far as 10 miles from town on the highway and down two-mile hill and never thought of wearing a helmet. We made go carts out of whatever things we could find and raced them down fish hatchery hill. My dad did make a safety intervention on one of our go carts. He took a look at the product of a couple of days of scrounging parts around the shop and home and deemed that it was capable of speeds we’d never before reached. I remember being proud at his announcement that it might just go faster than we could control. He took time to weld up a roll cage of pipes and loaned us a crash helmet from the airport. It turned out to be a good thing, too. The cart was really, really fast and I did go off the road and into the ditch at a good clip. I did roll it over and over and destroy it in the crash. And I did walk away with only a skinned hand and a small amount of road rash.

It was a lot less road rash than my brother had when he rode a bicycle as fast as he could go down airport hill and made the turn onto the boulder road, which usually was paved, but which was being repaired at the time. His turn was too wide and he hit the gravel pile in the center of the road and went airborne into the ditch on the other side of the road. The crash bent the wheel on his bike and it took him quite a while to get up, but when he did, he triumphantly declared that he had pegged the speedometer on the bike, which went to 45 mph.

We spent our summers largely unrestrained, using the entire town and the river as a place to explore and play. We learned about stinging nettles and poison oak by personal experience. We crossed the river at high water by climbing the structure underneath the highway bridge. We got chased by the neighbor’s bull and tore our jeans climbing the barb wire fence in a hurry. We were happy and we survived.

There are some wonderful things that are a part of our grandchildren’s lives that make them more safe than we were. I’m all in favor of properly designed and tested car seats for kids. I’m a huge fan of bicycle helmets and I always wear mine and insist on my grandchildren wearing theirs when we ride. It makes me happy to see kids wearing helmets for skiing and life vests whenever they are near the water. I always wear my life vest when I’m in my canoe or kayak and I insist on the same for our grandchildren on every ride. We’ve invested in good life vests that fit properly. I believe in having properly working smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors in every home. There are some improvements in safety that definitely save lives and prevent injuries.

On the other hand, I also believe that children need room to grow and have to be given responsibility to take reasonable risks. Our nine-year-old grandson will learn responsibility by being allowed the freedom to run and play in the neighbor’s hay field without direct supervision. His three-year-old sister isn’t ready for that much responsibility, yet.

There are some wonderful lessons and structured programs for children, but there are also children who are over scheduled and never given free time to just explore the world and even to make a few mistakes and poor choices. It may be a blessing of the pandemic that the summer of 2020 had fewer organized activities for children. Children’s sports programs and summer camps were cancelled. Some of the music lessons and organized team sports were suspended. Children spent more time at home and, hopefully, more time doing unstructured activities where they were allowed to learn from their mistakes. In the process, perhaps they began to learn a bit of responsibility for their actions and choices. They may even have taken a few reasonable risks.

I don’t want to go back to the past. I’m excited about the future that calls this generation of children. They will go places and do things that we never dreamed possible. But I also hope that they have the opportunity to pick an apple and eat it straight from the tree, to float down a river and look at the clouds dancing in the sky, to ride their bikes fast and feel the wind in their hair. May we find a balance of safety that protects them, but doesn’t remove every possible risk. May they have the opportunity to hit their thumbs with a hammer and scrape their knees in a fall. I certainly don’t want them to experience serious or permanent injury, but I also want them to have the freedom to explore the world.

Gracious God, we ask for safety for the children of this world. Protect them from the dangers that might cause permanent injury. Save them from illnesses that ravage and choices that cause pain. We know, however, that you are the God of freedom. You led our people out of slavery into the land of freedom, even though they abused that freedom and followed idols and lies. You give us the freedom to make choices that are not always the best ones. So we also pray for freedom for our children. The hardest part of loving is letting go, but you have shown us the way of even the hard tings in life. Help us to grant the freedom to grow to our children and grandchildren.

Bless the children. May they have the experiences that enable them to grow into adulthood and assume responsibility for their choices and actions.

IN Jesus we pray, Amen.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!