"We seldom get into trouble when we speak softly. It is only when we raise our voices that the sparks fly and tiny molehills become great mountains of contention."
- - Gordon B. Hinckley
July 18, 2012
Playing With Fire
by Emily S. Jorgensen

A friend of mine has a son who is fascinated with fire. He loves to experiment with it — playing “will it burn?" He has burned pencils to discover that the graphite inside doesn’t burn away. He has found that some materials melt, but do not burn. He puts great thought and planning into his future experiments.

My friend gives her son a safe way to satisfy his curiosity by allowing him to build a fire in their fireplace on certain designated evenings, with adult supervision. At other times, he knows fire is dangerous and he is not to play around with it on his own.

Another young boy that I knew was also very curious about fire, but his parents just said “No, it is not safe. Don’t play with it.” Which is, of course, quite true.

Well, this youngster was a rather stubborn sort. So that boy found his own way to satisfy his curiosity, and inadvertently started a fire on the kitchen floor when his parents were not around to stop him. Luckily, no one was hurt.

Children (and teenagers) are naturally curious beings. They are curious about the world around them, the behavior of others, sexuality, the need for rules, the meanings of words. This curiosity is necessary for their survival. It is the innate drive that allows them to learn, to grow, to be ready to enter the adult world. Be very worried about a child that doesn’t seem curious.

Sometimes a child’s curiosity can be uncomfortable for the adults in his life. Curiosity can engender a host of truly annoying, seemingly endless questions, questions, questions. There are days as a mother that I feel all I do is answer questions.

Curiosity about things that may be dangerous can be uncomfortable for an adult to face, because, of course, there are things in the world our youth may be curious about that are much more deadly to the soul than fire.

How can we engineer a safe way for them to satisfy their curiosity about these things?

It seems so much easier to just say, “That’s dangerous. Just stay away from it,” and assume that is the end of the discussion. And for some children — those that are naturally prone to safety-seeking behaviors or that trust adults easily and implicitly — that practice just may work. (At least, for a while, right?) But that assumption is a gamble. Will this youth be the one to start a fire in the house to learn the dangers on his own?

Personally, I am of the opinion that whenever possible, we should give our children knowledge or experiences that they seek, but within a controlled environment, to keep them safe. When it comes to issues of morality, that generally means talking very frankly about what they are curious about, so they don’t have to look elsewhere to answer their questions.

It means answering every single question they have about uncomfortable subjects in a calm, respectful manner that communicates love and acceptance of their feelings and opinions (even — especially — when we may not agree.)

It means that, rather than seeking to shelter them from the evil in the world, we are the ones to tell them about it at an age-appropriate time, in an age-appropriate manner. If we are not the ones they know they can turn to for honest information about the world, to whom will they turn? Do you really want to know the answer to that question?

So, yes, I tell my children, who are young, that there are children abused by their parents, that there are people who starve to death because of the selfishness of others, that people ruin their lives by using illegal drugs. But, I don’t tell them about mass gang-rapes in worn-torn countries or child pornography or the slave trade in the Middle East. They are not ready for that. Yet.

I want them to know about the evils of drugs, alcohol, and pornography so they can avoid them. I want to be their primary source for information about sex. This takes a patient willingness to listen carefully to what they are thinking about these issues. It takes a commitment to talk about these things without lecturing, but with equal parts listening to their questions and concerns, and answering as honestly as possible.

I have seen some parents go great lengths to attempt to protect their children from the evil in the world, to shelter them and keep them innocent. I can understand this — it is a natural inclination to do all we can to keep our children from terrible unhappiness and filth.

But at some point they will need to know about the evil so they can be wise enough to stay away from it. I would rather my children learn to wade through this muck while they still live with me, while I still know what time they came home last night, while they can get my help just by walking into the kitchen.

It is impossible to shelter a child forever. I choose to build my shelter with the strongest materials, but with windows onto the world, so when they walk out of it, they know what they are walking into.

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About Emily S. Jorgensen

Emily Jorgensen received her bachelor's degree in piano performance from Brigham Young University. She earned her master's degree in elementary music education, also at BYU. She holds a Kodaly certificate in choral education, as well as permanent certification in piano from Music Teacher’s National Association.

She has taught piano, solfege, and children’s music classes for 17 years in her own studio. She has also taught group piano classes at BYU.

She is an active adjudicator throughout the Wasatch Front and has served in local, regional, and state positions Utah Music Teachers' Association, as well as the Inspirations arts contest chair at Freedom Academy.

She gets a lot of her inspiration for her column by parenting her own rambunctious four children, aged from “in diapers” to “into Harry Potter.” She is still married to her high school sweetheart and serves in her ward’s Primary.

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