It turns out, I’m guilty of child endangerment.
Every single day I put my 8-year-old into situations in which she could get hurt. Not only do I allow this, I force this issue. For example:
She has to help make dinner. She helps wash and cut up fruits and veggies, often using a very sharp chef’s knife. She can (and regularly does) scramble eggs, flip pancakes, and mix dough. She puts things in the oven and takes them out, all by herself.
She has to take the dog out and bring him in… even when it’s very cold and icy outside.
She has to help with the shoveling and salting of the steps and sidewalks around our house.
She has to help clean the bathroom, including the toilet. For the most part we use natural cleaners like vinegar and lemon juice but, occasionally, she uses bleach or other very strong chemicals.
What do you think? Is this child abuse?
Recently, I commented on an article that reported a mother had been arrested for allowing her 3-year-old pump gas.
In my comment, I said that I frequently allow my 8-year-old to pump gas. It’s something she likes to do. I make sure the nozzle is inserted completely before she begins (both for safety and because I seriously can’t afford to be paying for spilled gas!) and I stand next to her and make sure the pump is turned off when we are done. If she were to splash a little on herself (as the child in the article did) I would take her inside the station and have her wash up carefully.
I received the following reply:
Uhm, probably not the best idea to let an 8 year old pump gas. They don’t have the best gross motor skills and gasoline is a very dangerous liquid. I would rethink that and have her clean the windows of the car instead, maybe toss out the trash. I would also suspend her cleaning the oven, sharpening the knives, bleaching the toilet, and cleaning the litter box…
Other comments, not directed at me, specifically, were much the same. Some critics were FAR more harsh of any mother who would let a child not yet old enough to drive pump gas.
So, I guess I’m endangering my child. Further, I intend to continue to do so.
I will continue to have my daughter pump gas (under supervision).
I will continue to have her help clean the windows (which, by the way, is done with harsh, toxic chemicals at the gas station).
I will continue to allow her to use the oven (let’s face it. We are not an oven cleaning kind of family. By the time we get around to it, it has become a Herculean chore that is beyond her childish capabilities.).
I will continue to have her use (not sharpen because, frankly, I don’t know how to do that very well. My husband is in charge of that job) sharp knives.
I will continue to have her clean (sometimes with bleach) the toilet.
I would make her clean the litter box if we had one. Instead, I make her clean dog poo out of our yard.
Other highly dangerous activities I regularly encourage include (but are not limited) running outside, throwing, catching and hitting balls, riding bikes at high speeds, fishing with real hooks, practicing archery with blunted (but still real) arrows, carrying toys upstairs to her room to be put away, standing on a chair to clean the top half of tall windows, crossing our residential street to see if her friends would like to come out and play, and climbing trees (especially apple trees in the fall – where all the best fruit is at the top).
“Why?” You may ask, “Would a loving mother put her child in such dreadful danger?!”
Because I want her to learn! I want her to be able to take care of herself and her own family some day. I want her to have confidence. I want her to know which tasks in life she finds most enjoyable, that she may pursue them and turn that joy into a contribution to society. I want her to do something besides stare at the screen of her Nintendo DS all day. I want her to understand that being part of a family means helping care for each other. I want her to be strong and healthy and full of sunshine and laughter. I want her to know how to make an unpleasant task fun and how to embrace a fun task to its greatest extent.
I understand that there is a huge maturity gap between 3 years old and 8.
I also understand that there are some things a child just doesn’t have the physical or mental ability to do.
This is why I stand next to her when she pumps gasoline. It is why, while she IS allowed to make her own pancakes she is NOT allowed to fry her own chicken.
If she gets a little burn from a dry frying pan or a nick on her finger from a kitchen knife I can kiss it and wash it and dress it and she can move on with her life a little wiser about kitchen safety. Every time she completes a difficult or (slightly) dangerous task successfully she grows more confident in her ability to do things on her own.
If she knocks a pan full of boiling oil on herself she will be scarred for life and could burn our house down.
When she can consistently show that she keeps a close eye on her cooking without getting distracted and she can pour liquid without spilling it, and she shows other signs of understanding how to be safe in the kitchen, we will move on to sauteing and, eventually, yes, I will let her fry chicken. Even if she’s not 18 yet.
I’m guessing the mom who was arrested is not so different from me.
But even so, she now has to go through the legal, financial and emotional crisis of defending herself against VERY serious charges. At best, they will be dismissed and she will live the rest of her life in fear that every little thing she lets her child do will be considered “endangerment.” At worst, she will be jailed and her child will be sent to foster care to live with God-knows-who.
We, as a society, complain that young people are lazy and ignorant and unmotivated.
We, as a society, raise children in a bubble where they don’t have to lift a single finger toward their own well-being.
Well…. so who are we to blame for our lazy, ignorant, unmotivated children? Hmmm…
Certainly we can’t blame the children! They are only doing what they’ve been taught to do.
I think that, perhaps, I’m rather passionate on this topic because we have dealt (and still sometimes must) with the consequences of spoiling our kid. Giving her more responsibilities helped immensely and immediately!
Child endangerment is letting your child play with a pail of gasoline. Or splashing it on them as some weird joke. It is giving them bleach and ammonia and sending them into the bathroom by themselves to clean, with no further instructions. It is leaving them alone to take care of themselves with no guidance what-so-ever.
May I suggest that requiring a young child to do tasks for themselves – even tasks that may pose some risk of minor injury – is the OPPOSITE of child endangerment? Especially if you stay nearby, supervising the chore at hand?
What do you think about all this? I honestly want to know. How do you draw the line for your own child between keeping them safe and teaching them to safely do potentially dangerous tasks? How do you know when a child is “old enough?”
Are you, too, seeking to save the earth, promote world peace and raise productive citizens without expending too much effort?
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