This is apt to be a “hot button” topic because people have such a wide variety of opinions, experiences and ideas about it, but that’s pretty much exactly why few “top down” regulations or “laws” will ever be relevant for everyone. Just too many variables.
By what process do “children” become adults? How do people become responsible for themselves, rather than dependent on others for their lives and safety? What part does chronological age have to do with it?
We would all likely say that a two or three year old is incapable of exercising sufficient judgment to be trusted to hold or use a sharp object, let alone a gun – no matter how much one might attempt to teach them. To start with, most don’t have enough control of their muscles, but then there are the three year olds who play classical piano… Of course, that is the exception. I never met a prodigy like that myself, but my experience with three year olds tells me no. Can I then assume that this is true for everyone, everywhere?
How about a five year old? Ten? Seventeen and a half?
Again, it depends on the child. My two boys were taught to shoot when they were six or so. They were allowed to shoot pretty much whenever they wanted, as long as they had supervision. The older boy demonstrated good understanding and compliance with safety rules, along with general reliability taking responsibility for himself, and was given a .22 bolt action rifle for his 12th birthday. He’d had several BB and pellet guns before that, and did well with them. The younger brother, however, didn’t do so well in either the following rules or accountability departments, and he didn’t get his first .22 until he was nearly 14 – despite the expected moans about how it “wasn’t fair.”
Our job, as parents, is to demonstrate both adherence to the safety rules (integrity), and comprehensive personal responsibility for our choices and actions. Without that consistent example, it’s very difficult for children to understand the concepts or develop the necessary self discipline. That it actually happens sometimes anyway is a wonderful mystery.
But more than just a good example is required. The child must be given the opportunity… the necessity, to make age/cognition appropriate choices AND to live with the real consequences of those choices. We would, of course, prevent them from actually harming themselves if possible, but the consequences must be very real and very immediate – both for good AND bad choices. Just telling them about it, or “warning” or yelling our heads off when they’ve messed up won’t do the job, though praise for good choices is important too. Giving them all kinds of choices, but then immediately rescuing them from the bad ones is a terribly destructive thing – even something like cleaning up after children who are perfectly able to take care of that themselves.
For example, I think I was probably four years old when I found a pot handle sticking out over the edge of the stove. I was able to reach it, and pulled on it enough to tip it. I was drenched in ice cold water!! And then, to add insult to injury, I was given a cloth and expected to wipe up the water! Mean old mommy.
My mother told me, years later, that she did that on purpose after seeing me attempt to reach for things on the counter above my head. She figured that an ice cold shower would cure me of the tendency and didn’t want to wait for me to learn the hard way with something hot. She was right! I never tried it again. And my own children learned about pot handles (and lots of other things) in much the same way.
So, the age of the child, and the amount of protection they need is relative – whether we’re talking about sharp objects, guns or stoves. How terribly sad to see children increasingly isolated from every conceivable risk and experience, given all “choice” and no responsibility, only to be told at the ripe age of 18 that they are suddenly “adults!” How many of those newly minted adults are truly ready to be responsible for themselves and whatever children they produce? How many of them can honestly teach what they have never learned?
What is your experience, and what are your strategies?