How to introduce your child to pocket knives

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I was 7 and had been begging my father to let me have a pocket knife for weeks. All the other boys in the neighborhood had them, and by virtue of that fact, I wanted one. My mother did not approve. She was one of those mothers who constantly worried about her children hurting themselves. My sister and I were, by nature, quite adventuresome and curious children. It often resulted in personal injury on numerous occasions. Despite her protests, my father took me to WalMart.

He insisted that he be allowed to pick out the knife. I reluctantly agreed, worried that he would pick out something I wouldn’t like. He closely surveyed the display case at the sporting goods purchase desk. I saw plenty of knives that I would love to have, but the agreement was that he could pick out my first one. He informed me that he had “Old Timers” when he was younger man in the 1950s, that if they had them he would get one for me. Sure enough, they had that line of knives by Schrade available.

It was lost many years ago with others in my youth and I never knew the model number. What I do remember is that it was a Stockman. It had three blades and seemed so big. Looking back at how small my hands must have been, I believe the knife was not all that big. But it was important to me. It had three blades, and I saw that as a sign of trust and nearing adolescence in the eyes of my father.

It seems like just yesterday that the neighborhood children and I were sitting in the “talking tree,” a large camphor tree on the border between the neighborhood and local fern fields. We would discuss neighborhood business in the tree (hence the name). It was also where we could go to get high above the ground and carve with our knives. We found a sense of pride in carving our names into designated places on the tree.

Like so many other knives from my youth, the Stockman was lost, either traded for another knife with a friend or simply lost in a neighborhood scuffle or to carelessness. I have had many more since then and lost just as many. I have a nice collection and I enjoy it thoroughly. I often measure the mark of person by whether or not he or she carries a pocket knife. It echoes back to a more rugged time in American history.

The question is often asked by people who grew up like me and now are parents themselves. When is it appropriate for a young person to receive a pocket knife? If so, what kind? How do I introduce it? I can only offer my opinion on this matter. It is one that I have thought about in some depth. Not long ago a friend asked me how to introduce a young child, his daughter, to fishing. I responded the best way possible. With writing.

We all knew a kid like that

I cut myself plenty of times with my knife. It’s an important lesson that goes back to the days of the cavemen. I learned that knives were to be respected and slightly feared. They can hurt you and should be treated as such. Sadly, each one of us has known during our childhood that one kid who, as George Carlin once said “…swallowed too many marbles and did not grow up to see adulthood.” The child who you often find out later in life whose final last words are “Hey, guys! Watch this!”

Before you let your child run off into the woods unsupervised you need to compare him to that kid we all knew growing up. Is your child that child? If so, then you will want to wait a handful of more years or more before allowing them to have a pocket knife. It boils down to whether or not you feel your child is mature, respectful and intelligent enough to care for a potentially dangerous tool. Take some time and observe your child, especially how he or she reacts around other children. Peer pressure can lead to unfortunate decision making.

What age?

The age that you introduce your child to a pocket knife is entirely up to you. Looking back at how young I was, I find it a bit shocking. My father obviously thought that I was ready. I certainly was not one of the children mentioned above and I think my father knew that. If I were in his position today I would be asking myself the very questions posed above. I would personally wait until the age of eight. Two years shy of being an adolescent, but still young enough to understand and enjoy the magic of being entrusted with your own personal “Excalibur.”

I feel like we are beginning to live in an age where children are far too coddled, where we are allowing everyone to play so that no one feels the sting of being picked last. It has led many parents to feel that children from the birth to the age of 18 are soft, easily bruised and weak. They are far from fragile eggs. Chances are if you are a parent like that, then your children are not going to be interested anyway.

Children tend to be quite upfront and honest. If they want something they will ask you for it. If your son or daughter asks you for a pocket knife, then they are most likely ready. From there you will, of course, want to assess the situation. Do you feel that they are ready? I do not have children but I do know how parents worry. Are you mature enough to be giving your child a pocket knife? A good question to ask yourself.

How to introduce knives to your child

From the start you should make your child feel important, letting them know that you are trusting them deeply with something important. From the beginning, before picking one out or giving one as a gift, talk to them first. Ask them if they know what a knife is. If they answer with something along the lines of “It’s a tool,” then your child is very much ready. If they are not quite capable of realizing that a knife is a tool, then they are not ready for one.

So what next? Well, if you are like me and had many adventurers fueled by a simple piece of metal and brass, tell them about your adventures. “One time I climbed this tree it was the biggest in the woods, and I carved my name in it.” Something like that. If you were anything like me as a child then you have a story like that. Mystify them with the magic of becoming a young little fellow with a pocket knife and imagination. Let them know that you trust them, too.

When you get the knife, explain to them the importance yet again. Tell them that young men and women who are worth trusting are those who carry a pocket knife. They are leaders. They are trusted by others. Appeal to their sense of wonder and belief, that you are giving them the modern day version of a sword being given to a young knight, that so long as they have that knife with them and keep it in good proper order they will be okay.

If you are still a little worried or question your child’s capability then that is all right. I am reminded of a story posted on the Equipped to Survive Foundation’s forums on this subject. The father chose, at first, to keep the knife with him and not with the boy all the time. He wanted to see if the boy was capable of the task and did not wish to thrust it upon him and to make sure that his son did not think it was a toy. This is what I would do. Do what works for you and your spouse.

What kind?

I am just old enough to remember MacGyver. The adventures of Angus MacGyver and his “elite fixer” skills for the fictional Department of External Security and Phoenix Foundation often entertained me for hours at a time growing up. It seemed like no matter what situation he was in he could get out of it. The one constant was his Swiss Army Knife. Over the years people have tried to identify what models he used. Common consensus is that he often used a Victorinox branded Tinker, Super Tinker, Deluxe Tinker and Huntsman model. That’s for all of you MacGyver fans out there.

I recall wanting a Swiss Army Knife. My father seemed to have a place in his heart for the Old Timer line by Schrade. He probably also was worried all of those tools would add to the possibility of injury—not that three blades on the stockman was a safe bet either. I highly recommend a Swiss Army Knife as the first knife for a child. It is internationally recognized as a knife of quality and has set the standard for all other pocket knives in the world today.

As I mentioned above I lost many knives. Your child will, too. Victorinox Swiss Army Knives are readily available, quality construction and affordably-priced. Most range from $9.95 to $24.95. They also make great birthday presents every year. Those few years that I was fortunate enough to get one as a gift, I treasured it. I have selected three models that I find would be the best for a young child. Click on the picture to go to the official Victorinox website.

The Bantam

SA53941When I look at the Bantam, I often see myself being nine or ten years old in front of the “Jiffy,” a convenience store several miles from our neighborhood that we would frequent. I see myself using this knife to open packages of candy and cookies, then using the bottle opener on an old fashioned glass bottle of Coca-Cola—a snapshot of Americana if there ever was one. I feel it’s a good beginner for children around 7 or 8 years old. As always, the token tweezers and toothpick are there. Don’t worry. They sell replacements. I’ve lost plenty in my time on this Earth. $18.50

 

The Recruit

53241A well-named model. In addition to the standard blade and bottle opener, you have a smaller blade and can opener. I own this very model and often use it as a lightweight everyday carry option or just as a backup in my backpack. If you feel your child is ready, then you should go instantly to this model. If you’ve started your child out at the Bantam or similar models then I highly recommend this model as a birthday gift the following year. $22.50

 

 

The Tinker

vm_53101--91_sol_front_ax1000This is honestly one of my favorite models. It’s the backbone of many of their other models. I consider this, unlike the previous two models, to be a full-fledged multifunctional Swiss Army Knife. All the previous tools are there with the addition now of an edged reamer (some come with an eye, others do not depending on the date) and a Phillips head screwdriver. This gives your child a little pocket tool kit, not just a knife, to carry with them. I had this model when I was about 11 years old for a brief time before losing it over the side of a friend’s boat. I used it often to fix things or take things apart I would find in peoples’ trash each Monday morning. $29.00

 

We all have a story

What can I say? I like the Swiss Army Knife. It’s one the kids love and I still love to this day. I collect them constantly. I trade them constantly. I have a Victorinox “Swiss Champ” that I purchased for myself when I was coming out of my teen years. It is their best model. They make several other models that have all of the tools, but are meant as decorative pieces. I still own and cherish it and it got me through the 2004 hurricane season. One day I hope to pick it up from a dresser as an old man and fondly remember how it was just me and the Swiss Champ against the storms and how it served me well.

We all have a story like that. Many of us become quite attached to our knives from our youth. I have become quite attached to some of them and will never part with them. I truly hope that your child gets to have those same experiences with his or her knife—and is one of the fortunate few who don’t lose their first, second, third or fifteenth knife like most of us.

Photo / Chris Penny

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5 Comments

  1. 1

    I began by letting my then seven-year-old son use one of my knives under my supervision, whether a small thumb-nick folder to a larger one-hand- opening one. Once I felt comfortable with his attitude toward and behavior with knives I bought him a wooden Spyderco Dragonfly kit which allowed him to build a safe replica of a quality knife and, in my opinion, gain an appreciation of both a knife and its mechanics. After seeing that he behaved responsibly with this wooden knife, I surprised him with an SAK classic which he has had for several months now without incident. I keep it with my own knives unless he either needs it for a specific task or we are going hiking in which case he will carry it with him.

  2. 3
  3. 4

    During this entire read I’ve been thinking back to the time when I was a cub scout. Many years ago now. It was a week or so before a bit trip out where I’d be away from home doing woodland type things my grandfather took me out to the wood near us, with the intention of me learning and brushing up skills. He told me first that every man should know there skills and when it came to it, could potentially need them. He pulled out his old Vic Swiss Champ (which I have to agree on, is fantastic) which I had seen him use, probably intentionally quite a few times. First showing me how to use it for different tasks then letting me have a go. After some time we finished and as we were leaving he pulled out a second brand new Swiss Champ, gave it to me and simply told me I’d earned it. Needless to say the knife was lost many years ago. The tip I’d like give to any mother or father is to first create a long relationship with your child seeing you use a pocket knife correctly and learning, as you said that it is a tool.

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane pal.

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