As the Fourth of July approached, I started noticing fireworks stands popping up around town. Nothing unusual, except many of them now have banners that read, “We have the big ones!” Naturally, I immediately thought about buying some fireworks and how much fun it would be for my daughter and I to play with some sparklers or the paper poppers and maybe grab a few of the “big ones” for myself.
My daughter is 3, and she loves to do anything that Mommy and Daddy do, but I started to wonder if playing with sparklers and throwing paper poppers is really something she should be doing at the age of 3. As most parents, I immediately questioned my parenting choices and why such a ridiculous idea, like giving my 3-year-old sparklers and paper poppers, would ever enter the mind of a sane parent. Later, after a few minutes of self-reflection, I realized there is nothing inherently wrong with fireworks, or me wanting to share that experience with my daughter.
What I have later come to realize is that society is increasingly putting pressure on parents to shrink the zones of safety. Zones of safety are accepted activities, environments or behaviors that we establish for children. Over time these zones have begun to shrink and many would argue that our children’s experiential learning (common sense) also has shrunk along with them. Without the ability to experiment, learn or experience certain activities, environments or behaviors our children are losing valuable life lessons and important skills.
Just to be clear, I don’t recommend allowing a 3-year-old to play with the “big ones” from the fireworks stands. I certainly don’t recommend leaving them alone or unsupervised with fire and any fireworks, but I do recommend you helping them explore the world around them. Everyone gets scrapped knees, poison ivy or sunburn. Everyone should enjoy some sparklers and paper poppers. Those are experiences; experiences build upon other experiences and help shape who we are and how we interact with the world around us.
As you and your family enjoy the holiday today, give your child some experiences and expand your zone of safety, don’t shrink it.
-by Justin Rose, Associate Executive Director