Why I Won’t Encourage My Kids to Climb

I have new hesitations about whether I want my son to climb.

Schnickelfritz is almost two and he’s enjoying playing with trains and cars as much if not more so than his older sister. He loves the time he gets to spend with me, to roughhouse, and work with my wrenches and screwdrivers. He’s also notorious for pulling down the books down from my climbing library and looking at the pictures.

The other day, I suddenly had a sense of hesitation about his inclination toward climbing. I didn’t feel this way with Wunderkind the same way; maybe its because they’re so young, Schnickelfritz in particular, but he likes things for the thrill. I worry that might become a dangerous habit, and I had a very real lump in my throat the other day when I considered bringing Schnickelfritz to the climbing gym one day.

I have a long-standing deal with my wife: I promised to Natalie that I wouldn’t encourage climbing but she also knew that I wouldn’t discourage it if they were to show interest.

That was fine until I started to reconsider that they might not have the same desire to be risk adverse. As a climber, I am actually pretty risk adverse. I manage it and mitigate it with strength, technique, help, and if it gets to be too great, I bail. Always have.

Climbing can be frivolous, dangerous, and can cause trauma and grief. Broken backs, concussions, missing digits are tangible results; and that’s if you survive an accident. That’s the consequence. And the grief is said to be worse for those that love the injured. Those of us that haven’t been touched by those horrors tend to pretend it’s not there or dismiss it because we think we’ll manage the risks and threats.

For Schnickelfritz, perhaps some little scares will help. The first time falling from a toprope before being caught. Perhaps building their own anchor and asking whether he will trust his life with it.

It’s like walking onto a frozen lake. You need to feel comfortable doing it to do it.

Statistically, I know that the odds of a concussion, by comparison, is more likely to happen while falling while riding a bicycle. But I know climbing also has a different stigma about it’s danger. We climb because we’re seeking something elusive, and it’s often not risk itself but what we see through the risk.

I love the mountains. There I seek to experience peace that comes from exhaustion and the relief of simple pleasures. A hot shower, a cold beer, and the company of a good friend or loved one in the mountains beats the hot dog and beer after work at a baseball game.

I’m not going to forbid climbing. But I think I will be true to my promise to Natalie, with some new trepidation.

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