OK parents – pop quiz – Here’s one that’s not covered in any chapter of any parent handbook that I’ve ever seen.

Your 12 yo is building a pair of night vision goggles for a middle school science project. The hardware includes an RC battery, a video tailgate back up camera, 2.5″ LED display, associated wiring all jerry-rigged together with electrical tape to the best of a 12 year-old’s ability. It’s all housed in a shoe box lined inside and out with duct tape. Would you let your child take it to school on the bus on a Monday morning?

Now, the teacher is aware your kid is building this because your child submitted a propsal before hand. The teacher also knows your child will be bringing the components in to construct in class and put on exhibit as part of a community ‘museum’ event. However, as I sat in our living room Sunday night and I looked at the jumbled mass of electronics wired together in a box wrapped in duct tape something in my head clicked.

I said to my wife, “if he takes that to school tomorrow, you know he’s going to end up at the principal’s office and we’re going to be lucky if he only ends up suspended.”

Erin looked at me and then studied the kit and nodded, “yeah. We might.”

The more I thought about it, the more it started to bother me. All of the crazy headlines we read about tragic accidents from simple misunderstandings started running through my head. I started to imagine all sorts of horrific outcomes.

In the end, I told the boy I didn’t want him taking the project to school on his own. I promised that I would deliver it first thing in the morning after my morning workout.

When I arrived at school, the receptionist greeted me warmly and asked if I was delivering her science project. I smiled and joked, “you’re building night vision goggles like my son? Cool.” We laughed and I gave her my son’s name and class information. The Durham police school resource officer happened to be in the office and he saw the whole exchange. It was all friendly and easy.

All of this leaves me wondering: was I prescient or paranoid in managing the situation this way? Was I responsible or over-reactive? I just don’t know.

I don’t consider myself a helicopter parent. My wife and I have always talked about ‘acceptable risk’ and children needing to learn that actions have consequences. Some times those actions result in physical injury and that’s a part of life. Part of raising kids is letting them assess and manage risk in all forms on their own. Because, face it. Some day we won’t be around to manage the risk for them.

Hell, just Sunday afternoon I was the dad at the rain swollen white water river co-supervising a gaggle 11-12 yo boys as they negotiated the rapids by body surfing.

“Get your feet and knees together! Get them turned down stream now!”

“Oh, you’re all right. Get your feet under you and stand up! It’s barely knee deep there!”

My point is I’m not typically one to go borrowing nightmares and assuming the worst possible outcome in a situation. Yes, I can see those outcomes, but I don’t typically latch on to them.

Furthermore, were Erin and I irresponsible by even letting him take this contraption to school? What if someone DID panic and the entire middle school ended up on lock down? I’m not sure about that either. Maybe that was reckless on our part. If some one at school DID express concerns and feel alarmed about this non-descript box of duct tape with wires hooked to electronics inside of it; I don’t know that I would blame them. The world is a pretty scary place right now.

On another level, I find myself wondering, “what would the reaction be if my African-American daughter did the same thing?” Would there be any reaction? Would there be a different reaction? Again, I don’t know…but I have to wonder.

Mostly, I find myself pondering a number of very big what if’s, not really liking many of the answers and at the end of it all pondering “how did we all end up here?”