This morning, I was rudely awakened from a rather interesting dream. In the dream, I was staying in a hotel with some others - and for some reason we had several "extra guests" in this very nice hotel, so we had to move them from room to room to keep them from being discovered. That was just the weird part. The interesting part was happening to move by a table on which was laid a dozen different foods, mostly pastries and confections and snack-type foods, and one rather curious mailbox.
The food, it turned out, was quite tasty, but wholly organic and with very little in the way of sweeteners - "healthy" snacks. The mailbox was what has stuck in my mind though. It was blue and made of the same sort of material that is used on ranches to pen in the animals. A sturdier metal of some sort. It had hinges on either side, about mid-way down the body of the piece, as well as at the "regular" spot to allow the door to open and midway down the back panel. The side- and back-panel hinges were not the sort that allowed the pieces to open, but they allowed the box to "give" when pushed at (or hit.) Curiously - and I wasn't able to figure out the purpose for this part - there was a black sort of rubber "bumper" bar at the top of the front. The door was more squared off than the standard rounded top as well.
The company putting it out was called "Better for Boys" and their premise was to offer items that are better for their health (and would therefore, help keep more boys off of medication for ADHD diagnoses) or items that can stand up to the abuse a boy, or group of boys, puts on an object. I can imagine more of what might be sold by such a company: walls or wall paint that can stand up to graffiti (or that can wash itself!), the malleable mailbox, bunk beds that double as climbing walls... you get the idea (and the reminder that I have three boys of my own!)
Lord knows that with four children and a fifth coming, I don't have the resources currently to start such a company - but perhaps it would make a good future home school project to design some of these items! So barring a company to create and sell items such as these, the question then becomes is it good for us to offer boys items that will save them from their natural instincts? I mean this question more in the sense of offering them items they can all-but destroy vs. teaching them, and expecting them, to have self-mastery and self-control over their natural impulses to act out in ways that make items such as these necessary and tempting to society's young men.
I would not suggest that it is never right for boys to be boys. When ours were young - very young - they were climbers (and still are!) To keep them moderately safe, we went to IKEA (marvelous place for some things, including kids' toys!) and bought a ladder designed to be attached to an interior wall, along the studs. We put this in their room right next to the book shelf, so they can pull out their books without pulling the shelf over at the same time! The ladder is no longer next to the shelf, but it is still in the room. The boys don't use it so much any more. It is not high enough for them now, it seems (how they grow!) but Buttercup is on her rise to stardom as a Champion Edens Climber.
I delight in watching her reach these same milestones that her brothers did at about the same age (under two.) It scares the heck out of parents at the ... (pick one) ball field, grocery store, playground, etc. She climbs whenever she gets the chance. Though rare, she even manages to give me a bit of a jolt every now and then. But we taught her early on to climb stairs fairly safely so we are slightly more confident in her ability to follow her joy in this. Does this immunize her from the possibility that anything bad will happen? No, but perhaps it is better to help them remain safe through use of moderately safer equipment than to remove the equipment all together.
Our boys though have missed out on many of the old playground toys that we had as children because of an overzealous society wanting to protect from every aspect of possible harm. No longer do we see see-saws (or teeter-totters, depending on where you grew up!), merry-go-rounds or metal slides. My kids are probably happier without the metal slides, but a part of me wishes those other bits of fun were still around and we hadn't sterilized everything so much. What we have now are spaces that make it more difficult to run off their energy and their need to move; we've insisted that they sit in a room all day and try to think while being still (for my Smeagol, that seems almost impossible!). We've watched them struggle to comply, and then put them on medication for not being able to maintain focus under such circumstances.
So the answer to my original question - whether it is better to teach them to behave or to offer them objects that can withstand potential misuse and abuse - lies pretty squarely in the middle. Over time, teach them to stay still, to think, to contemplate. Also find ways to give them freedom to run, jump, climb and to take a few risks so they can reason out for themselves how to avoid danger. This balance is what they need to grow, and with a little guidance from us they will be the bright stars they are meant to be. If we learn to stop ourselves from rushing to "talk to someone" or fix things when they make poor choices, and to avoid bringing them out of the tree when they get a little higher than our stomachs like, they will learn lessons that will help them all the days of their lives. The tendency of children to get into slightly risky situations is both the gut-wrenching fear, and the joy, that comes from being parents as we watch them grow and thrive.