Fifty Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do)


Make contributor Gever Tulley and Julie Spiegler published a fun kids' acitvity book called Fifty Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do). Above, one of the activities: supergluing your fingers together.

Other activities in the book: Look at the sun, Walk home from school, Kiss hello like the French, Play in a hailstorm, Dive in a dumpster, Melt glass, sleep in the wild, and whittle. What fun!

Fifty Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do)


  1. Wait, “look at the sun”? That’s pretty damned dangerous if you’re not wearing sunglasses, and even then it’s not such a good idea. I wonder what safety precautions they suggest.

    1. It’s not really all that dangerous to look at the sun under normal conditions. Your iris’s will contract and your eyelids will naturally squint until it cuts out enough light to do it without too much pain, which also cuts out the harmful UV. The problem with looking at it during an eclipse is that the eclipse cuts out the visible light but not the UV. This means that your iris’s don’t contract, and you get too high a dose of UV.

      Or I might be making this shit up. You’ll never know.

    2. Actually, it’s not. You’ve looked at the sun, right? Can you still see?

      Yeah, that’s one even doctors repeat, but you can look at the sun, it won’t blind you.

    3. Actually, they have you build a viewer to look at the sun. A completely safe one (making an image of the sun on a piece of paper). And they have warnings.

      I don’t think you’re going to find anything actually dangerous in this book. That’s the whole point, I think. to let kids explore things they might otherwise be told not to, which in actual fact are fine for any kid to do.

    4. My bet is the look at the sun is actually make a camera obscura and make safe observations. Every school kid should do that at least once. Every school kid in Calgary did in ’79 (I think) when we had a total eclipse.

    5. If you look through a #10 welders glass (shield), you can look at it all day long without damage. Great for eclipses…

  2. heh… I love this. But it really makes me sad for all the kids growing up these days in a bubble of overly-cautious parents’ making. I’m so glad I got to run wild as a kid, even when overseas.

  3. I’m considering buying this book for myself. Sounds like a lot of fun!

    I’ve always been kind of afraid of superglue. Now I’m very tempted to buy some next time I’m at the store…

  4. I have been waiting for this book ever since I say the TED talk with Gever Tulley. I’m buying a copy for myself and another copy to “loan” to people.

  5. So cool that I can write, “I can’t wait to start doing dangerous things with my kids!” and have the context to feel fine about that.

  6. what a great idea. i want a copy for myself! reminds me of some of the “science” books we had as kids, those were always good for helping us come up with fun and cheap things we could do (often without any kind of responsible supervision!).

  7. I remember when this was just stuff you did when you were bored or curious, not things you had to encourage parents to let their kids try. I guess that is a sign of the times, in our overly protective society; god forbid your child scrape his knee!

    1. I remember when this was just stuff you did when you were bored or curious, not things you had to encourage parents to let their kids try. I guess that is a sign of the times, in our overly protective society; god forbid your child scrape his knee!

      No offense, but do you have kids? I think you’re reading this wrong.

      The utility of such a book isn’t in trying to “convince parents to let their kids try [this stuff].” It’s utility is to try to convince the kids to be kids! You’re right–society is over protective, and my kids get it from every side. I’m always trying to get them to loosen up and be kids, to get them to do some mildly challenging and risky things. How else are they going to learn?

      A little anecdote:

      So, I took my daughter to her Daisy meeting last night (Girl Scouting, pre-Brownie). At the end they had a snack of oranges and milk. I so wanted to demonstrate the flammability of citrus oil– take out my lighter, squeeze the peel to get the oil to spay out into the flame and watch the little fireball. I’ve done this for my kids and they loved it.

      But I knew at least some of the mothers there would freak out, so I had to let it pass.

      Once, to help my daughter get over a little fear of fire, I let her and some other kids have a ball playing with one once. After cooking the marshmallows I let them wave the burning sticks wildly in the dark might. They had a blast. No one got hurt. My daughter got over some of her fear of fire.

      And the other parents freaked out.

      Seriously, this book wont be bought by over-protective parents. It’s will be bought by the other kind.

      1. The utility of such a book isn’t in trying to “convince parents to let their kids try [this stuff].” It’s utility is to try to convince the kids to be kids!

        In cymk’s defence, the title of the book is “Fifty Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do).”

        The title is clearly directed a parents. The contents are clearly directed at kids.

  8. This looks like lots of lawyerbait to me.

    hey I wonder if “Press really hard on your eyes until you see all kinds of supercool patterns” is in there. DIY hallucination without the drugs!

  9. @ kmoser:

    During a sunset, looking at the sun is mostly harmless, but yeah… not a great idea to have the little tykes stare wide-eyed into the gaseous glob without a good sun filter. Plenty of those are sold for telescopes.

    I fear that some people will read this post, and instead of buying the book, just assume that gluing your fingers together is as dangerous as staring at the sun. Opposite ends of the spectrum, people.

  10. When I was in middle school our tech-ed teacher told us that if we got rubber cement on our skin we would develop arthritis. It’s probably true.

  11. I flipped through the Amazon copy (when looking up the sun viewer thing) and it seems good. Only I was disappointed to see no melting of glass, as Cory suggested. Only breaking glass. But that’s pretty cool too. And a bit dangerous.

    They have the kid suit up with long sleeves and goggles, place a glass bottle on a board that’s on a garbage can, with a cardboard box taped behind to catch the shards. Then swing at it to break it. I could see a few tiny shards ending up backsplattering, and maybe ending up in someone’s clothes which will scratch when the clothes are removed. But what would the kid expect? Lesson learned: if I take a baseball bat to glass bottles, I could get a few scratched. Doesn’t seem like a bad lesson.

    1. Only I was disappointed to see no melting of glass

      Actually, the Table of Contents on amazon does list “Melt Glass” as number 47 out of 50. Looking at the little cartoon images on the front cover (there’s 7×7 images on the cover, and 49 project plus “Your Project” as #50 – you do the math), I’m guessing this one involves putting some glass into a hot bonfire…

      1. You’re totally right, I only looked at the first page of the TOC. Oops. And yes, it involves putting a bottle in a very hot fire.

  12. I fear that some people will read this post, and instead of buying the book, just glue their lawyer’s eyes open and have the little litigator stare at the sun.

  13. I can vouch for “Kiss hello like the French.” Turns out we never taught the kids how to kiss hello so, when I took them down south to meet “La Familia”, the relative would greet with a kiss, which my kids transformed into an awkward hug. ‘Course I recommend strongly against teaching the “Sloane Peterson” family kiss.

  14. “Only I was disappointed to see no melting of glass, as Cory suggested.”

    Astute of you to notice that Cory posted this under his pseudonym “Mark Frauenfelder.”

    (That said, this is the BEST BOOK IDEA EVER. Off to buy a copy.)

  15. Not to be a total drag on the dangerous crowd, but you can get a nasty case of contact dermatitis from ethyl cyanoacrylate instant adhesives.

    On the other (unstuck) hand, if you want a good “nuclear fireball” kids, just put a spray paint can seam side up on a hot fire and stand back! (Seam side down will cause the can to enter low earth orbit.)

  16. Guitarist Bruce Cockburn said in an interview that he applies superglue to his nails and fingertips — gives him a nice durable surface for his industrial-strength fingerpicking technique.

    1. I have heard from many fingerstyle and classical guitarists that they use superglue on their right hands.. especially for weak fingernails, or aggressive technique.

  17. It says much about how over-protective of kids, and how afraid of just about everything, we’ve become as a culture. Reading the Amazon description and the user reviews didn’t quite make me yawn, just made me think about the crazy, fun stuff I did as a kid, and made me thankful that that was 40-50 years ago when people didn’t worry everything to death, or so it seemed. We had plenty of other problems that we should have been worrying about, though.

  18. I sense a hidden assumption that kids only do things they are allowed to do. When I was a kid I spent the whole day riding my bicycle (without a helmet) totally unsupervised and almost everything I did was dangerous. In those days that was considered normal, as long as I was home by sundown.

  19. I checked out the table of contents and one entry caused me to pause, Poison Your Friends. Can anyone with the book please enlighten me?

    1. The Poison Your Friends entry has you putting salt into cookies. The dangers are upset stomach and distrust. The final sentence says, “Are you brave enough to taste one of your own ‘poisoned’ cookies?”

  20. One of my favorite comedians from the 1990’s in SF, Mike Gandolfini

    “I bet my brother 20 dollars that he couldn’t look at the sun for an hour. He won, but I only gave him a dollar.”

  21. Superglues are also great for demonstrating(accidentally dumping on ones pants, yeah but while doing a fletch, so beat that) of exothermic reactions. Squeeze a whole bunch on a rag and it gets seriously hot as it sets.
    Also, kids love fire, fire++ is making a propane forge. I smith pretty seriously and making standard pottery fragments incandescent is a pretty cool trick to establishing groundwork about the nature of EM spectrum. Or at least I would have thought if my uncle had shown me that when I was seven… props uncles.

  22. Looking at the sun is really quite dangerous, but it is also painful. Yeah, I think we have all looked at the sun a little. But that really doesn’t sound that much fun, so I kinda think they probably provide a way to look at the sun significantly without the pain (pain which happens to be your body telling you to stop staring at the damned sun before you blind yourself).

  23. Um, melt glass is in there, project #47, right after #46 – glue your fingers together. It’s on page 94 of the book, listed on the second page of the table of contents in the Amazon preview.

  24. That was my *favorite* dangerous kid fun growing up in the sticks. Jam a wad of 00 steel wool on an untwisted wire coat hanger, light the steel wool, and swing the hanger round by the hook. you probably could be (and should be) arrested for it in, say, California, but in the damp east it’s darn fun.

  25. oops, deleted the first line, meant to say that I hope the book includes what my dad taught us to call “White Trash Fireworks” made out of steel wool.

  26. i wonder if “fling molten marshmallows off the ends of sticks at each other” is in there. it’s pretty dangerous, but also fun.

  27. I don’t think I’ve ever used superglue without glueing my fingers together — or to a desk, or to a piece of newpaper, etc.

  28. Let your kids?

    As though we have a choice? I think my son has done it a couple of times when we had it out and were making repairs and he was watching, and (monkey-child that he is) he messed about with it.

  29. Good grief, reading some of the comments here (and elsewhere) just proves how uptight, overcautious, overprotective and litigious our current society – ergo today’s parents – has become. Instead of gathering accurate information, we have a diatribe on the dangers of staring at the sun; if any of the “oh-no-Johnny-will-go-blind” submitters had done a bit of research, they would have learned the authors do not suggest unrestricted sun-staring but rather use a camera obscura. The cries of “call the lawyers!” are equally ridiculous. In the event some idiot buys the book but then cries fowl – and I am more than convinced those idiots exist en masse, the authors and publisher have protected themselves from such actions.

    Of course, the very necessity of this book is ample testimony on the current state of parenting technique. While there may be good reason children can no longer leave home after dinner, ride their bikes for miles and return at dusk (or later), as a society we have gone way too far in trying to shield our children from any possible harm. Life just ain’t that cushioned, y’all, so I say hurray for this book and its carefree authors.

  30. A friend of mine once burned down his neighbor’s garage when he was a kid. The firemen asked him what he was doing. “Burning steel.” “Steel doesn’t burn.” Yes it does, watch….”.

    Super glue is also a good bandage for many sorts of cuts and abrasions. A daub also helps get rid of warts, which are aerobic. Many home remedies like duct tape or banana peel are based on that, but I find super glue easier to apply and longer lasting. (You have to keep them covered for several days, so re-apply when it finally peels off.)

  31. I might also suggest that you super glue a strong, small magnet to the tip of your child’s finger. Then let them poke it at electrical and magnetic things.

    I did this once after reading an article about surgically inserting magnets into fingertips to feel magnetic fields. It was really cool.

  32. “Looking at the sun is really quite dangerous, but it is also painful.”

    No, it’s not either. In fact, it was my prefered way of inducing a sneeze when I was a lad. (And yes, I still have my sight.)

    For cryin’ out loud, people, do you think we’d evolve sensory organs that could be destroyed by a wayward glance?

  33. The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments.

    Will never be republished, due to horrendous liability issues (Let’s make Chlorine Gas!)

    Then there’s the (in)famous “Rocket Manual for Amateurs” by Bertrand R. Brinley. Any book that has emergency first aid instructions for belly wounds is O.K. by me!

    (Brinley was also the author of the insanely awesome “Mad Scientist’s Club” books.

    A set of these books to the little proto-hacker in your life will mutate him/her in truly delightful and unpredictable ways!

    1. Thank you for the link to the Mad Scientists Club! Every couple of years I remember that book and wonder how to get a copy for my 9-year-old to read. It must be 30 years since I read it, and I can still remember a bunch of the stunts :)

  34. As someone who did accidentally super glue their fingers together while model making I’m not really sure I like this suggestion. In my case, even when using a specific super glue release agent, it was hard work to eventually pry my fingers apart.

    1. This is why the book tells you to wait a few hours until your skin becomes naturally unstuck, rather than attempting to “pry” them apart.

      Anyway, when I have a kid this sounds like a great way to get some “me” time.

      “Hey little Johnny, you want to do something dangerous this weekend?!? Something I probably shouldn’t let you do, but because you seem soooo big now, I guess your old enough — and brave enough? Oh boy oh boy!!! Yay! Off with your socks! Ok, we’re going to take this super glue, right, and apply a thin layer to the soles of your feet. Now stand right there on the hard wood floors! Weeee, isn’t this fun!!! Wow, it’s like you can’t move!!! Ok. Daddy’s going to the bar now. If you manage to get yourself unstuck (don’t pry! that could hurt!), prepare some of Daddy’s hangover medicine, would you?”

  35. Even having grown up in the suburbs, I had the good fortune of living near a “creek” – basically a dry stream bed made to flow with storm-drain runoff. It flowed through an un-sellable swath of mixed public/private land that included the stream, a railroad, and some swaths of utility easement.

    Anyway, the total uninhabited land had to be at least 100 acres, which provided ample hours of unrestricted fun and exploration for myself, my siblings, and our friends.

    We built a fort (with help from dads) that spanned and connected four old oak trees, but only drilled into the tree at one point.
    We built a rock dam that diverted the flow of the creek for at least two years.
    We built boats out of junk that (mostly) floated, and did our best to raft down the entire creek – fording the low points and ruining numerous pairs of shoes.
    We went “mountain biking” on cheap Huffys with no helmets or pads, and used the railroad track as a bike trail.
    We filmed movies using my friend’s parents’ old VHS camcorder that heavily featured a railroad trestle and homemade slingshot warfare – and, of course, we engaged in homemade slingshot warfare.

    I remember drinking from the creek, thinking that running water was safe (and that’s the only time I remember getting *really* sick). We got horrible cases of poison oak/ivy/sumac multiple times – yet, we kept on going back.

    Those were the best times for me, and it pains me greatly to see so many kids growing up without the freedom to get hurt a little, to break a couple bones, to run around and discover things for themselves, and to learn their own lessons. I count myself fortunate in that regard.

  36. When I was small we lived for a time in a logging community. I used to wander off into the woods after school and watch the deer and their fawns (ahh…so cute). But I also knew where the bears were and would watch them too (girls can do dangerous things too). It was amazing.

    Over-safe isn’t good. Neither is outright foolhardy. US culture is hooked on extremes. Balance is what we need, and balance is an ongoing process of adjustments. That’s not terribly popular because it means you have to think.

  37. If letting your kids walk home from school is a dangerous activity, perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate the neighbourhood you live in.

    1. If letting your kids walk home from school is a dangerous activity, perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate the neighbourhood you live in.

      I just came in from running a coyote pack off the property. And we have mountain lions. And the occasional bear. And I live downtown, a block from the convention center and the movie theater. You’d be surprised what dangers lurk in nice neighborhoods.

  38. I really like this part of the copyright notice in the book:

    “Attention: Schools and Educators
    We’d appreciate it if you would refrain from photocpying the entire book, but feel free to copy what you need. Special pricing can be arranged, please contact us for details.”

    It’s nice to see that the authors explicitly allow some copying of their book. They also seem to have realistic expectations: they know some people will copy the whole book, but they’re asking politely that you don’t.

  39. WHAT? Kissing like the French is dangerous?! How the hell did anyone come up with that?

    There are plenty of countries where you greet friends/family/and even colleagues with a kiss (or two) on both cheeks. Not too many reported deaths resulting from runaway cheek kisses.

    And spare me the communicable diseases bullshit. If you’re not feeling well, you just say you’re not feeling well/have a cold/etc and everyone wishes you a speedy recovery.

    I agree — mostly the TOC just makes me sad…we do an awful lot of that stuff around our house just because we can.

  40. 30 years on… “I could never connect with my parents. They had this book of abusive behaviour – they made me glue my fingers together, told me to stare at the sun…”

  41. It’s my understanding that the reason that looking at an eclipse is dangerous is that the iris shrinking and squint reactions are driven by the TOTAL amount of light comming into the eye, but retinal damage is proprortional to the peak intensity. So when the eclipse is near total, the part of the sun that is visible is still bright enough to cause damage, but the total amount of light isn’t enough to shrink the iris and cause you to squint. Nothing to do with UV versus visible light.

  42. I’m very happy to say I don’t think I need this book. My 4 year old happily lights the coal fire with me (my 6 year old is too cautious) and does all kids of dangerous things out of inquisitiveness. He is learning what might be dangerous by trying things out rather than by being terrified of everything.

    with note to the chemistry experiments above, I remember essence of pear drops which we were told not to sniff in case we got high. I also recall my dad on teacher training blowing a hole in the roof of the lab trying ‘something’ out.

  43. Every time I use cyanoacrylate adhesives (superglue!) I manage to glue my fingers to themselves or to whatever I’m gluing…seems Junior won’t NEED to be told to glue himself together…he’ll eventually manage it all by himself.

    (Fortunately I never seem to end up with much on my fingers, and it’s easy enough to pull apart…so long as the book emphasises not using MUCH, no harm, I suppose)

  44. The cheek kiss is a secret French plot to take over the world and get payback for Agincourt/World War I/World War II/Freedom Fries (delete as appropriate for your homeland).

    The French have centuries of built-up resistance to all those deadly kiss-bourne pathogens.
    Then they come over to ‘visit’ us and spread their deadly diseases to populations with no natural immunity. It’s gonna be even worse than what we did to the American indians.

  45. What’s even more fun than gluing your fingers together is putting globs of it on each finger. It deadens the sensation and feels really weird to pick things up.

    I learned this being in a band. If you play bass or guitar and get a cut on your finger before a gig, cover it generously with superglue and you won’t reopen the cut and it won’t hurt to play.

  46. Ah, yes, kiss hello LIKE THE FRENCH. Because ONLY the French kiss hello. Nevermind that us Mexicans that live right next door to the U.S., also kiss hello (and goodbye). Couldn’t it just say “kiss hello”? Does it have to be “like the French”? Blah.

    Incidentally, this may be a sore point for me because I live in the U.S. now and I really miss saying hello & goodbye with a kiss. It was so nice and now I feel so distant from everyone, like even my best friend, how can she be my best friend if we can’t even say hello properly with a kiss? That’s how people who care about each other say hello! This is one of those very tiny things that you don’t think will be a culture-shock issue but one day you go to BoingBoing and all of a sudden it all comes rushing out. Huh.

    1. Does your best friend not dig the kiss hello thing? At least it could be a “special best friend greeting” for y’all, and it could be a little reminder of home for you. I don’t think most people (at least not where I live) would think it was all that weird.

  47. I’m going to have to check this one out. As a new-ish parent, I’ve been questioning the helicopter BS that’s passed as parenting for the last 10-15 years. I want my son to grow up to be a fully functioning adult. To me that means he’ll need to learn skills that can’t be gained if I do everything for him. Kids need the freedom to fail just as much as they need the opportunity to succeed. That doesn’t mean he’s allowed to use the miter saw without mom or dad supervising, but it does mean that he gets to learn how to use it.

    I’ll second unintended uses of superglue. It’s holding together a fingernail torn below the quick right now. My mate has used it frequently to close up cuts that don’t want to stop bleeding on their own, but aren’t bad enough to need stitches. He says it doesn’t hurt anymore than peroxide or rubbing alcohol.

    Where the frak does Antinous live? Do not want.

  48. Kids are naturally talented in this regard. It’s parents who need to let them explore their world while setting reasonable boundaries. Parents who would buy this book don’t need to, and those who should, won’t.

  49. I’m all for kids doing risky stuff, supergluing a child’s finger and thumb together just sounds *gratuitiously* dumb. There must be easier ways to achieve the same effect. If I were working in A&E and I got a visit from a kid who’d torn his fingertips off because his parents encouraged him to use superglue on them… well, I’d probably put those parents in the same category as those Balloon Boy parents.

    1. “Torn his fingertips off?” Dave, you either have a very unrealistic idea of human anatomy and behaviour or really unrealistic expectations for superglue. I recommend you glue your fingertips together immediately.

      1. Nah, I just didn’t know the word for the part of the fingers I meant. Pads? I just meant the skin over where your fingerprint is. Pads, probably.

  50. The really weird part is how you have to “prep” your children to deal with others. It’s like being part of an unpopular cult if you raise your kids like you were raised – for example:

    Son, I know you’ve been allowed to build and tend fires as long as you can remember, but in the cub scouts you are not going to be allowed to get close to a fire. You shouldn’t tell the leaders that your parents trust you with fire, they won’t believe you and they will treat you like a liar. Just don’t bring it up.

    Honey, I don’t mind if you carry throwing knives on our property, but you need to leave it here most of the time. Ask me if it’s OK before you take it anywhere, other people won’t understand and you could get in big trouble.

  51. And I thought my parents were irresponsible for letting me smoke cigarettes at 13 and drink alcohol at 15 and pretty much do whatever the hell I felt like. But it didn’t do me any harm. After rehab, years of unemeployment and 17 years of 12 Step meetings, I was fine. Well, as long as I remember to take my medication I am. People, you know the difference between right and wrong. You don’t need the latest parenting “guru” to tell you what to do. Just use common sense.

  52. We’re really interested to see how this book is doing. We’re about to publish a book called MISSION:EXPLORE which encourages children to think about risk/safety in a very different way. Our approach is far more about setting fun challenges – risk is often there but it is up to the reader to make a judgement about the level of safety for themselves, at that time and in that place.

  53. I love these ideas it’s an amazing way to teach kids and have fun!! And it also teaches kids to grow up and be brave’!!! And this is coming from a 12 year old girl that’s a dare devil!!! Let your kids explore!!! Remember : the person who’s never made a error in life never did something important’!!!!!

  54. for all those people that thing a quick glance at an eclipse will blind you. I still have a few photos i took of a solar eclipse with a tlr camera when i was a kid. i had to sneak the camera out cos my parents (i think i was about 10) told me i couldn’t do it.
    i knew about the reduction of the visible spectrum and the fact that the uv wasn’t really reduced – but a 10 year old couldn’t convince them that he knew what he was doing.

    still got my sight

    btw – i camera obscura arrangement would have got me better photos – but i had a point to prove!!! :)

    more parents need to read books like this.
    my kids are adults now, so i didn’t kill them either.

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