We didn’t start the fire

We didn’t start the fire

So why do we keep teaching kids that they did?

Something occurred to me the other day that really disturbed me and made me rethink the way we teach children about their safety. We took our daughter to meet a fireman who was very funny and charming. He gave a wonderful presentation about how to be safe regarding fires. When we got home and discussed it, my daughter revealed that she thought fires were started by kids—and that was that.

What! Immediately I set to righting this misconception, teaching her about electrical fires, cigarette fires and other ways fires can be started. I insisted that yes, it’s not good to play with matches—but grown-ups make mistakes, too! Many fires are caused by grown-ups, which just astounded her. Do we really think ourselves gods so much that we have to instill this sense of responsibility and foreboding upon our children? Do we need them to carry that much guilt and worry in their lives?

Do me a favor and talk to your child about fires tonight—about how they’re started, how to prevent them and how to react if there’s one in your home. Have a home fire drill and engage your children in checking the smoke detectors. Practice your fire drill routinely to be sure they are safe.

My husband’s home burned down due to an electrical fire when he was seventeen (before we were married, of course) and his family lost much—including nearly every photo of him—but they all thankfully made it out alive. If we can prepare our kids adequately, hopefully they, too, will survive any accident that they encounter. But we also need to teach them the full story—to use caution while cooking, for example, rather than simply, “Don’t play with matches!”

We can also teach them more specifically about stranger danger, police officers, and so much more. Because when we teach them that every stranger is a monster, we are creating a more cynical, hateful world—and possibly not even protecting our kids in the process, since many attacks result from people we already know.

And when we teach kids to blindly respect authority—such as making adults in power seem godly, as in the example above and as we do in so many other roles adults have—without knowing personal safety boundaries, we fail in preparing them to fight off abusers who would use their power to hurt children, too. Kids are not alone in making mistakes, and they need to know that not only do adults also make mistakes, but that some adults may even be dangerous. They need to be told that they will not get into trouble for reporting an inappropriate grown-up—and that they should trust their own instincts as well.