The Balanced Guy: On A Rite of Passage

As the father of three boys and a four-years-and-running Cub Scout Den Leader, I’d like to think I have a pretty good handle on what makes boys tick. I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, what they like: Legos, toy guns (or anything that can be used as a toy gun, like a stick), video games, fire, cartoons, sports, and generally anything they’re not supposed to touch (such as my tools).

Now, I’m not so anal retentive that I mind them gently inquiring after my tools—it’s the ones that they are not supposed to touch that worry me. Take, for instance, knives. We all know that they are shiny and sharp and thus oh-so attractive to young boys (and although I’ve got limited insight into the subtleties of girls, outside of my sister and my wife, I’m fairly sure that knives interest them, too). So why in the world would you willingly give a knife to an eight-year-old kid? Because—dramatic pause—they probably are ready for it.

I already can hear the outcries of, “Are you totally insane?” and the fluttering of the “helicopter parents” as they clamber to bring their children indoors and send their lawyers out to string me up. But let me explain: First and foremost, a pocketknife is a tool, not a weapon. I’ve carried one for years and it’s come in handy more times than I can count.

My feeling is that if the Boy Scouts of America—as venerable an institution on what boys do as any out there—is okay with their eight-year-old scouts toting pocketknives, then you should be, too. When Cub Scouts are in the third grade, as part of their passage to earning the “Bear Badge,” they also can earn the coveted “Whittling Chip” badge. Successful completion of the badge’s requirements earns the scouts the right to carry a pocketknife at Scouting functions and events. The safety rules they have to learn and the training they receive in handling and caring for a knife work very well in my experience. And, let’s be honest: It’s not as though you’re handing out 10″ military survival knives to the kids so they can field dress deer; I’m talking a basic Swiss Army or Boy Scout pocketknife that they learn to use under a parent’s (or a Scout leader’s) supervision.

By the time I was eight, I had a knife and a BB gun, both of which I regularly packed up and took into the woods near our house to play for the day with my friends. We never got into any trouble, nor suffered any terrible injuries. It was very simply a rite of passage as well as a relatively harmless way to learn about risk management. And because of this, I’ve gotten just as much pleasure presenting each of my sons with their first pocketknives as they did in receiving them. The way that their eyes lit up was a clear indication of just how important they felt about being given one: It shows you trust them, that you think they are grown up enough to handle the responsibility, and creates a bond between you that is, well, kinda special. Granted, as their parent, you have to think carefully not only about if you are comfortable with your particular kid having a pocketknife, but if they are ready for the responsibility. All eight-year-olds are not created equal; and neither are all parents. As a parent, it is critical that you clearly lay down the rules about where and when it’s appropriate for your kid to use and handle a pocketknife (and that doesn’t include bringing it to school; the pocketknives only should be used at home and under your supervision).

Below, I’ve included a few links on knife safety and how to select an appropriate pocketknife for a child. Take a look; your kid just might be up to the challenge … and the responsibility.

The writer of The Balanced Guy, Roman Horoszewski, is not particularly balanced but he’s trying to be. He makes an effort by not only doing “guy stuff,” but also by spending time with his three sons and wife while attempting to remain informed about the world around him. He and his family live in the Princeton, N.J. area. His blog is at

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