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Knives, Fire, and Running with Scissors: On Letting Our Kids Take Risks

Before we begin I feel the need to point out that the title of this piece is facetious. Of course your children shouldn’t be allowed to run around with knives, scissors and fire. That being said… let them ride a bike!

I was having a conversation with a friend of mine recently about the way kids are coddled these days. Normally I am not a “Back in my day” kind of guy. But when I see how little children are allowed to spread their wings in the modern age, I can’t help but feel a bit of that curmudgeon surface.

Overparenting can have grave consequences for children as they grow. But what you might not realize is just how much you are holding them back.

Skinned Knees and Bruises

A fascinating article published in the UK newspaper The Guardian pointed out the paradox in modern parenting. We see it as our role to keep our kids safe and so we limit their exposure to risk. Along with that elimination of danger has come a 90% decrease in the distance that kids wander from home on their own since the 1970’s.

Why does this matter? It could actually be stunting their growth and development as a whole. That stunting could have a severe impact on society as those kids take over. We may already be seeing that effect now.

Much of this is due to what we see in the news. Facebook trending stories tell of missing children being found dead within miles of their home. Crime sprees and natural disasters happen across the world. Yet, studies have proven time and again that we are living in a safer time than ever before. Could our exposure to 24-hour news be feeding our fear frenzy and causing us to hold our children back from the time they need alone to develop?

For most of our children the primary risk they will face is that of skinned knees, bruises and occasionally broken bones. While none of these things are pleasant, they are a normal part of growing up. Each of us can remember such events and what was happening when they occurred. We were climbing trees, racing on bikes, with our friends blocks away from home until the streetlights were coming on.

As adults we are able to look back on each scar and remember the event that coincided with it. The pain is a distant part of that memory, hardly present at all. It is the moment that shines bright in our mind and the lesson that we learned from it, which we took into our later years, that helped form who we later became.

We are not keeping our kids safe. We are robbing them of experiences they should be having.

Finding the Balance

That isn’t to say that certain precautions aren’t wise and necessary. I can think of more than one example where I was in more danger than my adolescent brain could grasp. There is a line between overparenting and underparenting. Walking it can be very difficult.

Starting out slow is probably the best course. Begin to let your kids go out and play on their own. Give them the ability to walk around the block, or to the park nearby without you. Let them ride their bikes around the neighborhood.

From there you can begin to widen the scope. An 8-year-old should be supervised, but if they have a 12-year-old sibling why not allow them to be the one to do it? Go out for a walk on your own or with your partner and let them stay home alone. Go to the store and don’t bring them with you.

Most importantly, give them the ability to make decisions on their own. These don’t have to be big decision, just everyday choices related to their lives. Sometimes these decisions may be bad but that is a part of building resilience and learning to take responsibility.

After all, everyone makes mistakes, sometimes big ones. Let them make their own, even if it means a bit of discomfort from time to time.



10 Tips For Raising Resilient Kids. (2016, July 17). Retrieved October 23, 2017, from

Child’s body found in Richardson is ‘most likely’ missing 3-year-old Sherin Mathews. (2017, October 23). Retrieved October 23, 2017, from

Henley, J. (2010, August 16). Why our children need to get outside and engage with nature. Retrieved October 23, 2017, from

Park, M., & Valencia, N. (2017, July 27). Police recommend charges for teens who taunted drowning man. Retrieved October 23, 2017, from

The Effects of Overparenting on Children. (2015, December 28). Retrieved October 23, 2017, from

The world is actually safer than ever. And here’s the data to prove that. (n.d.). Retrieved October 23, 2017, from

A Clean Slate: Helping Your Teen Start Over After Misconduct On Their Permanent Record. (2017, September 21). Retrieved October 23, 2017 from

Knives, Fire, and Running with Scissors: On Letting Our Kids Take Risks

Tyler Jacobson

Tyler enjoys going to the mountains near his home in Draper, Utah to connect with his wife and children through camping, hiking, and quality time together. When he isn’t rebooting in the outdoors, he shares his fatherly experiences with the world through writing and creative designs. Tyler shares the ups and downs of family life and the solutions he’s found through lengthy research and involvement in the industry and his own experiences to help parents everywhere. Follow Tyler on: Twitter or LinkedIn.

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APA Reference
Jacobson, T. (2018). Knives, Fire, and Running with Scissors: On Letting Our Kids Take Risks. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 20, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 16 Nov 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.