young girl holding pocket knife


Is My Child Ready for a Pocket Knife?

Jan 8, 2018

The kids call it ‘the woods.’ But really, it's a scrappy tangle of trees at the end of the cul-de-sac.

They discovered it this summer and promptly disappeared into it with their friends. It's where they build forts, hatch secret plans and emerge with an awful lot of mud under their fingernails. The brush is sparse and weedy so they were never entirely out of sight for long. I took a deep breath and let them go.

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At the time, I was ready to give them some space and trust. They were ready to take both, of course, and that was terrifying and exhilarating. Exhilarating because it was the one thing that seemed to excite them more than video games. And terrifying because there was no way of knowing what they might discover.

What they discovered? Knives. What I discovered is that they might be ready for more trust than I am willing to give them.

 I’m not sure which of the neighbourhood kids brought the first pocket knife. I do know all of my kids emerged desperate to get their hands on one. “What would you even use it for?” I'd ask, attempting to stall. But they seemed to have no end of reasons, from clearing branches to making arrows, all of which ended with some version of the phrase, “We would be safe.”

It wasn’t just a knife — it was a sign that my parent's trusted me.

In other words, they knew it was a big ask and tried to say all the right things. As for me? I would love to be excited about the idea of giving them each their first knife. 

My first knife was the length of my pinky finger. It was a red Swiss Army knife, complete with nail file, tweezers, toothpick and tiny scissors that could only really cut dental floss. Each part slid or folded away neatly. It was a precision tool that served almost no useful purpose that I can remember. My parents kept a close eye whenever I was allowed to “use” it. I was six and loved it more than anything I can remember owning at the time. It wasn’t just a knife — it was a sign that my parent's trusted me.

My own kids are eight, six and five. I think that they are all probably ready. But I know that I am not ready.

After quite a bit of thought, and research, my wife and I have decided to set a firm age of eight for knife ownership in our house. And, yes, it is mostly for our own benefit. It gives us some time to get comfortable with this knife thing while still giving the kids a taste of that trust they seem to be craving. It also gives us a chance to work on our knife safety in the home, including plenty of supervised practice using knives in the kitchen.

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My eight-year-old should be allowed to bring his knife into ‘the woods’ by next summer. The younger two will have their own soon enough. I hope I am as ready as they seem to be by then.

Article Author Rob Thomas
Rob Thomas

Read more from Rob here.

Rob Thomas is a writer, editor and a work-at-home dad. Brood, a book of poems inspired by his experiences of fatherhood, was launched at the Ottawa International Writers Festival in 2014. His journalism has appeared in places such as Ottawa Magazine, the United Church Observer, Canadian Running and on CBC radio and television. He is also a founding member of an Ottawa social club for dads called The Ugly Mothers.

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