My first instinct is to look out for his safety, but another part of me appreciates his desire to test his limits and strive toward a new accomplishment. That is the struggle as I watch my two-year-old work to climb a geometric dome at a local playground. Precocious and determined as my boy may be, he is still smaller than he probably should be to climb something like that.
At first, I tell him, “No, you’re too small for that. You’re going to fall and hurt yourself.” Naturally, he proceeds anyway. At this point, I add respect for authority into the mix of considerations affecting my judgement. He’s not listening to me. He’s doing something dangerous. I should intervene.
But I don’t. The part of me that wins out is the same one driving him, the part that wants to see if he can do it. So I get close enough to intervene if necessary, and watch. I watch him search for a handhold, seek a footing, find the necessary leverage. I watch him make it up onto the first tier of the structure.
“Yeah! Good job, buddy! Good Job.” My tune has changed. He’s encouraged. Naturally, it’s time to tackle tier two.
But tier two adds another element, a change in slope, shifted angles. He works as hard as before to find his footing, grasp new handholds, and push his way upward. But it soon becomes clear that he has found his limit.
Twice, he slips, loses his footing, and dangles above the ground. I’m there to catch him and help him regain his footing. He doesn’t give up. He keeps trying. He’ll probably keep on trying for a long time. But I finally take him off the structure.
“It’s okay, buddy. You did good. You’re still a bit small for it. You’ll grow though.”
I walk away with a tinge of regret, not that he reached his limit or that I let him risk getting hurt, but that I thought to stop him in the first place. We concern ourselves with safety quite a bit nowadays, perhaps to a fault. But few great things are accomplished without risk. I want to keep my boys safe, and will judge how much risk is appropriate for them to assume. But I don’t want to teach them that all danger should be avoided. Conquering danger is an integral part of the human spirit.