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Children’s Home Repair, Safety Skills Severely Lacking

Fri July 13, 2007 - National Edition
Nancie A. Balun-Boughton

Do young people understand the benefits of learning home safety skills? If you have ever heard these scenarios, then your answer is probably no.

“And why should I care about mending the fence I broke?” “Mom, the toilet is overflowing with disgusting stuff; I don’t know what to do.”

Most young people are not aware of what they don’t know around the house in order to keep safe from fires, electrical problems and plumbing disasters. Because of this, we face a national crisis. Parents are supposed to know how to teach their children basic home safety. But if parents lack the skills, how will children know what to do in an emergency?

Everyday practical knowledge for the home comes with education, practice and experience. Unfortunately, progress and changes in our society have contributed to the demise of the time and knowledge needed to teach our children the benefits of being their own handyman or handywoman.

With each new generation, there is less time to pass on traditions. There are fewer opportunities to teach home repairs. And sadly, there is not as much family involvement with parents and grandparents to explore the importance of being a self-sufficient home dweller.

It is a socio-economic crisis that plagues each new generation. It has been written about over decades by scholars and educators alike, and it is played out among families in their homes or apartments each and every day.

Even if we can identify the life skills children are losing, do most kids and parents think it really matters? We don’t exactly know. There is no national survey for this question, but there should be. But one truth is known, it’s hard to care or think it matters if parents don’t see the benefit of knowing how to use a hammer or wrench.

Our children live in a more complicated, multi-media environment then of past generations when it was the television and radio that occupied free time. Young adults, in particular, can be consumed by music on an iPod, talking to friends on a cell phone, connecting their computers to chat rooms or playing a video game on a big screen TV. As a result, they can become more accustomed to less human contact and hands-on experiences around the house.

As parents it is up to us to provide a balance in their lives between their new toys and toys that can be made with a hammer, chisel and bench saw. Finding time to teach our children can be difficult.

According to the NYU Child Study Center, parents have less time with their children by approximately 10 to 5 hours than in the 1960s. If parents don’t have the time to help our youth, how will they learn to become self-sufficient adults?

One day our children will leave home for their dorm, apartment or home. Will they be ready for the safety challenges that await them?

• Did you remember to teach them to set a timer for the lights to help prevent a burglary?

• Can they prevent the basement from flooding because they know to replace the old water heater?

• Even more importantly, can they prevent fires from happening?

• Will they change the filter to the furnace each year, unclog the dryer vent, and maintain a clean fireplace?

If they don’t, would you want to live next door to them?

According to fire statistics, each year fires kill more Americans than natural disasters with cooking fires being the leading fire maker. Not providing our children with the necessary skills to keep safe in their homes hurts them and can harm others.

Keeping our children busy around the home with chores, training sessions in fire safety, cooking classes, gardening and sewing projects, among others, also helps to keep them more physically active. Recent national research has shown that childhood obesity and diabetes are at an all-time high.

Organizations like the YMCA have created a national initiative called “Activate America” to encourage children to get more exercise. But much more needs to be done on a national level to call attention to the plight of so many children who don’t know why it is important to have a well-rounded education that incorporates practical, physical and intellectual learning.

Celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Bill Gates are trying to improve our children’s education. The President’s “No Child Left Behind Act” is focused on grades and scores to ensure that every child is getting a good basic education. But don’t assume schools are taking the time to educate them about tools, fire safety and homeownership. Schools are not in the business of doing the jobs of parents unless forced to do so.

Parents that are associated with construction can lead by example. But for those who can’t, they can only hope that somewhere down the road their children will learn some form of home life skills, perhaps from friends and relatives or books and teachers.

Hopefully, before they become homeowners, and not after a basement flood or fire in the chimney.

Luckily, adults have lots of home shows on cable television to watch, which can guide them through many home safety and repair issues. Unfortunately, kids of all ages do not have a home safety show to enjoy on a Saturday morning.

So what can be done? As parents, we can’t force our children to like playing with tools, real or as toys. We can’t force them to remember every fire safety rule or every home maintenance tip, and we certainly can’t convince them to make or fix things with their hands.

The National Kids Construction Club suggests the following:

• If your child is young, encourage hands-on fun with shovels, blocks and other kinds of building toys.

• Go outside and explore your world by visiting a construction site or stop and watch a sidewalk or road being made.

• Join school clubs that encourage creativity with hands-on learning.

• Consider a membership with youth organizations like the Boy or Girl Scouts.

• As teens, encourage them to participate in Habitat for Humanity projects, which will help them learn about building technology.

• If their school offers practical art courses, take them.

• Plan a visit to a hardware store with your children.

• Read how-to-books and create a home repair project, such as installing new tile on the laundry room floor, with your son or daughter.

• If they have a grandpa or grandma, go share stories of the old times.

• Explore your heritage by finding pieces of furniture made by hand.

If we recognize that we need to instill good values into our children, then we have come a long way in solving this national problem. How we teach youth about the importance of achieving a well-rounded education that includes sports, the arts, academics, technology and practical home safety training needs to begin very early. If we as parents help, perhaps our children will listen.

Studies have shown students want to change things for the better. Why not encourage them?

For more information, visit

(Nancie A. Balun-Boughton is an advocate for practical home safety for children. For the past seven years, she has been studying this issue as the founder and executive director of the National Kids Construction Club.)

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