Boys need their rough and tumble

17:00, Jul 21 2011

Revealing a fortnight ago that I had (jokingly) opened a cat-fighting school generated some interesting correspondence and feedback, writes Mark Hotton in this week's And Baby Makes Three.

Some were horrified to think that I would let Zach anywhere near Furley the Fleet-footed Ninja Assassin, with several pointing out the odds were heavily stacked against the boy, mainly because Furley has claws and Zach has chubby hands. Mere technicalities.

But one comment from an old school mate got me thinking.

Despite living in Christchurch and being constantly rattled by earthquakes, she put up a good argument for allowing kids to be kids and not wrapping them in cotton wool.

She had received some "terrible looks" when she did not intervene between her children and other people's cats while visiting, she said, but believed it was a succinct lesson for them to learn without her help.

"I get sick of people thinking that we have to protect our kids from everything.


"Basically, I have decided that if it won't kill them or cause permanent damage (that is, a broken arm is acceptable, cutting off your arm is not), then they will learn best from experience."

While that might sound to some like hands-off parenting, that is far from the truth – she is a dedicated mum who loves her children dearly. And she did put a smiley face at the end of that comment.

While we would disagree on my atheist stance, I couldn't agree with her more on this subject.

Little boys are meant to do what little boys do best – be little boys.

Without going into the whole "in my day things were much better" spiel, a smile comes to my face when I think of the tomfoolery and fun that I got up to with my friends, all over town, and away from adult supervision for hours at a time – all before mobile phones.

I'm not talking Swallows and Amazon adventures, but expeditions that often involved some form of gang hut, an imagined enemy, some tree climbing, plenty of bike riding, and the occasional frog or tadpole. Good wholesome Kiwi fun.

I hope, and will try to ensure, that Zach will have the opportunities and freedom to experience childhood the way it is meant to be.

Don't take this the wrong way, but I would prefer that he broke his arm falling out of a tree while trying to see if he could climb to the top, rather than sitting on the couch, too scared to go outside in case he got muddy.

Rough and tumble are an important part of growing up. So are learning boundaries and limitations.

If he can't take a risk while playing with his mates, how will he learn to judge risks later in life?

An advertising campaign in England advised that every day, two teenagers were killed or seriously maimed on London roads. Two, every day.

Experts believed a lack of natural play in a concrete jungle made it hard for children to judge risk, so when they came to cross a road, they had bad judgment.

How many blokes could imagine growing up without playing street cricket, moving off when a car came along?

If Zach wants to play in trees, defeating an evil baddie while pretending to be sailing a pirate ship, then he can go for it, but he had better find a big enough tree to support his dad.

» Southland Times reporter Mark Hotton and his wife are first-time parents. Follow their adventures in parenthood in this weekly column.

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