Here’s a Quick Way to Destroy Your Kids

Our kids have never been good at following the crowd or “sheepwalking” as Seth Godin calls it. Or following the signs at local parks that read:

“Stay on Prepared Trails”

When I was a kid at the same parks, there were no signs. There were barely paths.

The whole point of going was to get off the trail. Explore a mysterious cave. Jump across a tricky precipice. Race up the side of a cliff that was likely to cause a bruise or scrape or both. No, I didn’t wear a helmet.

There was one thing I wasn’t trying to feel.


I wonder how my children are supposed to learn to explore, take risks, or be creative when everywhere they go they read stern warnings to stay on life’s prepared trails. How boring is that! No wonder video games seem enjoyable. They’re risk-free. Aren’t they?

Imagine the Wright brothers needing to file for an FAA permit. In triplicate.

What if the Oregon Trail had been a Department of Transportation project?

How did education even happen for two hundred years without federal lunch guidelines? If parents and kids can’t figure out how to pack their own lunches, what are schools good for? Really.

At least they’re – what’s that word?


Pioneers – or heretics as Seth Godin calls them — care little for their own safety and much for carving out a path for others to pursue their dreams.

Our faith drives us to see what’s beyond the next bend, over the next hill, in the back of that shadowy crevice. It is, unfortunately, the natural way of things that our faith soon becomes memorialized as a religion of rules and procedures designed by sincere – and fearful – people. To maintain the status quo. To keep it – how did it go?


Why is it that when I think about the future my kids face in this world of prepared trails, that safe is the last word I think of?

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  • Jennifer

    I’m wondering in what ways organized religion plays a role in our fear of risk. It does not seem – on the surface, anyway – to encourage wandering from the path. “Membership” appears to be conditional on following the agreed upon rules of the group. Many who leave the fold (to use the sheep metaphor) are either demonized or prayed over in the hope that they won’t be forever damned. . Even on the political front there is huge pressure for members of various religious groups to vote as a herd for the man or woman who will uphold the most rules as determined by the group. Is there a way that religious groups can encourage personal exploration with its inherent risk so as to ultimately strengthen us?

    I lived a very sheltered childhood – my parents shielded me from the over-exaggeration of the dangers in my neighbourhood (I was lucky enough to live is a reasonably safe one). I was blessed to be given a childhood of climbing trees, skinned knees, pennies on train tracks and, by today’s standards, huge amounts of independence and freedom. I read wonderful stories about children on adventures. The telegram sent by the Father in Swallows and Amazons to give his permission for a sailing/camping adventure gave me the chills: “BETTER DROWNED THAN DUFFERS IF NOT DUFFERS WON’T DROWN” And while I would rather my son be a duffer than dead, I have encouraged reasonable risk from the time he was very young – mostly to prevent him from becoming a duffer! How are children supposed to learn judgment skills if we don’t let them practice? How can they learn to take responsibility for themselves if we do it all for them? Children are not supposed to be good at staying on trails (they wouldn’t learn to walk if they stopped trying after the first fall). Studies have shown that restricting all naturally “risky” behaviour leads to acting out elsewhere. There seems to be an inborn drive for children to test themselves and their environment. I personally wonder if the dramatic rise in ADHD and other problem behaviours I’ve seen over the past two decades is at least partially due to overprotection and too much adult control. So while we need to aware of real and likely danger, we need also be aware that protecting children from all risk is not necessarily “safe” in the long run.

    • This is the tension between faith and religion. We see it everywhere as the organization put in place to protect and perpetuate the belief can become a hindrance to the genuine practice of the belief itself. But it need not be.

      I won’t comment on the ADHD thing. I want to survive today.

  • Doc Mike

    Hey, Bill! I think one of your kids just fell of his bike and hit his head on a rock on that unmarked trail he was on.


    • Bodies heal. Usually. Hearts and dreams are another matter. But thanks for looking out for them. 🙂

  • John Evans

    I see a couple of things, Bill – one is the park management’s potential fear of a hyper-litigious society. The same reason we now get ‘caution: contents may be hot’ on cups of coffee.

    The other might be practical – there may be ecological conservation projects, such as replanting rare species, off the marked areas. Excited feet and hands eager to explore might damage something hard to replace.

    Just two possibilities that occurred to me.