Before long kids will toss their schoolbooks and pencils in the far corners of their rooms, don their Magellan garb and embark on a summer course of outdoor exploration.
For many rural children, railroads, dumps, junkyards, abandoned properties and ponds make exciting places to explore. It is up to parents to decide where suitable adventure sites may be found.
Each year, hundreds of railroad trespassers are killed and injured, according to the National Safety Council. Children who crawl under or pass around lowered gates, walk the tracks, cross trestles, take shortcuts across railroad property, hop trains, climb in, on or around railroad cars run a tremendous risk.
This spring take the time to warn your children of these dangers. Instruct them to obey warning devices and insist they never cross a railroad track until they have looked both ways and are sure it is safe.
Never assume children will act like responsible, mature adults. Advise them often because they forget.
Kids will be kids. For most, life is an adventure. Anything and anywhere is fair game for exploration.
When I was a boy growing up in northwestern Kansas, there was always something magnetic about a junkyard. We had an abandoned dump within easy walking distance.
We dug and sifted through the trash at the site for hours, collecting little treasures to add to our growing collections. Sometimes these “keepers” as we called them consisted of rusted iron spikes, neat-shaped bottles, broken wrenches and tools, discarded containers and other cast-offs.
While we weren’t aware of it or didn’t care, the risk of injury was always present. Wasps, snakes, rats, spiders and other creatures scrambled and slithered to move out of the way of our excavation projects. Broken glass and boards with rusty nails threatened to cut or puncture our small feet. I will never forget the pain and tears of stepping on a nail.
Dumps also feature trucks, bulldozers and other heavy equipment. It’s difficult for operators to see children scooting among the debris. Such equipment can easily crush kids. Warn your children to stay away.
Dark deserted buildings—including barns and abandoned farmhouses—often have the reputation of being haunted. Such structures were always considered another adventure when I was a youngster.
Big kids often dare little kids to go in. I remember accepting the challenge and brushing my way through cobwebs and crawling around rodent holes and fleeing mice. Although I survived, I wouldn’t advise any child of mine to do the same.
As a youth, my dad always warned me again and again about swimming ponds. I guess the repetition paid off because I never swam in such pools of water until I was in high school and an “okay” swimmer.
Remember to tell your children about such ponds. They are deep. You can be into water up to your knees the first couple of steps and the next—over your head.
There are no lifeguards. Fencing off ponds may help. Warning signs also may serve as a deterrent, but kids always find a way into the water.
Warn children about such potential hazards. Then warn them again. Saving one child’s life is worth the effort. Many times it takes more than once for them to grasp your warnings.
Lead by example and remember that as a parent you have been entrusted with safeguarding your children’s wellbeing. Summertime is a special time for kids. Having a child is indeed a treasure. Take care of, cherish and nurture this wonderful gift.
John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas.