A Boy and His Pocket Knife

When my kids were toddlers and I would help set the table my wife would tell me “only pour as much water as you are willing to clean up.”
Her advice proved to be wise as my children spilled their water many times. But her advice continued to be true well beyond the sippy-cup to drinking glass transition. Over and over I used her advice and would think about the truth of calculated risks.

Calculated Risks. Often worth taking.

Unfortunately when it comes to today’s child parents seem more concerned about any possible risks rather than calculated risks. Even when chances are extremely small, some parents simply won’t take the risk. With such restrictive views, our children are missing out on so many opportunities, including owning and using pocket knives.

boy_with_knife2In the hands of a properly monitored and trained boy who had to earn the privilege and has to continue to demonstrate proper use and keep some basic rules to keep the privilege to carry a pocket knife the risks of danger are substantially reduced. At the right age, I believe it is a calculated risk worth taking. (Some parents may ask, what is that age – 8, 9, 10, 11? I am pretty sure I got mine at 9 as did my son since that is the age our church scouting group began taking the boys camping and permitted them to earn their “Cut and Chop” card which allowed the possession of a knife on camping trips. I don’t know your son. You know him better than I do. Remember the calculated risks factor. If your child continues to defy your instruction and do very foolish things, then a knife will be too much of a risk, but when they settle down and show reasonable obedience, then it will be time to allow them to earn a knife.)

I think boys should be allowed to have pocket knives under the right circumstances. Here are my thoughts.

1. Boys should be able to earn privileges, including a pocket knife.

“Earning” something is important for children and especially for boys. In a world where very little will be handed to them once they graduate from school, it is helpful to reinforce the connection between wise behavior and earning privileges. A big privilege for a boy is a pocket knife of his own.

2. Make a child really earn something and they will appreciate and respect it more.


A simple tent stake made with a pocket knife.

The process of working and through that work, earning something of value, is very gratifying for boys. Boys know when something was difficult to earn and when it was not. So the process of earning a pocket knife should be something that is not easy. If your child is part of a scouting program, ask about what merit badges are connected to proper knife use. Have them earn the badge and then give you a demonstration on the proper use of a knife. A simple project is to have your child carve you a simple tent stake – pointed at one end so it can be driven into the ground with a notch at the other end that is capable of holding the cord or tarp down. You may even want to make this an “event” where your son goes out with his dad (or favorite male role model) and gets a chance to demonstrate how to properly open, use – including cutting away from yourself and never in the direction of someone else, clean, sharpen and close the knife while producing a usable tent stake.

3. Make a fuss about your son’s earning his pocket knife.

If I were you I would celebrate your son’s earning his pocket knife. Maybe present it to him in front of the whole family (younger siblings will take note on how they can earn one too!) with a clarification that it is a tool and not a toy and give him the rules which will allow him to continue to keep the privilege of possessing the pocket knife.

You may even want to write up a “contract” and have him keep a copy so he knows what it was he agreed to!


Suggested rules:

  • It may not be taken to school or other public places.
  • It may not be left around for younger siblings to get.
  • It may not cut or mar living trees except with permission.
  • It may not be used to deface, mar or destroy objects.
  • It is a tool to be useful, not destructive.
  • It may NEVER be used to threaten or harm or even to pretend to threaten or harm anyone or any living creature.
  • You must continue to use and take care of the knife according to the ways you were taught.

Boys love respect, especially from other males. Make sure you let you son know that you respect him for working hard to earn the knife and that you are very proud of him. OK, my kids give me a hard time about making “events” out of everything, but now that they are grown, they really do remember those events. Maybe you can do a “formal” presentation of the knife after dinner some evening.

4. Define when he may carry the knife and hold your son accountable in continuing to use the knife properly and within the rules.

Let you son know when he may carry the knife. (As a school principal I took away about a half dozen knives from elementary boys all of which I told Parents they could get at the end of the school year, but not one parent came for the knife.) Once he earns the pocket knife, keep him accountable by making sure he continues to obey the rules you set for him.

One last thought. When you get your son a knife, get him a good one. Poor quality knives get dull quickly and may not hold open correctly. Both of those factors make for a dangerous knife. Also, I would keep you son limited to the pocket knife variety rather than a knife and sheath. Even though I am all about calculated risks, the chances of a very bad injury with a blade long enough to fit into a sheath is too high for my child. I would wait until they are in high school or are on hunting trips with Dad before a longer knife is purchased.

With a little bit of planning and training you should be able to bring the risk of owning and operating a pocket knife down to where it becomes a calculated risk worth taking! Then your son will be able to experience and participate in a tradition that has been going on for many, many ages. Consider it a rite of passage. A first step to manhood!


Christian, husband, father, grandfather, and educator who finds it a privilege to blog with his daughter and daughter-in-law. My desire is to support Christian parents and help boys be understood and appreciated.

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