Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Safety and Independence

As a social worker, I tend to have this internal fight with myself all the time. I want my children to be independent and make their own way in the world. I want them to not be scared of their world. But, at the same time, I am occasionally paralyzed with fear because I know there are parts of our world that aren't safe. I know there are people who would hurt them if given the opportunity. It's a hard thing, this parenting stuff, isn't it?

So, it was in that light, that I wrote this post last week. And then got some interesting comments (here, on FB, and in person). People had strong reactions to that post, y'all. People brought up all the children who have been kidnapped in the last 30 years who we all know from seeing them in the media. They said "tell so-and-so that the world is a safe place" or "I'm sure so-and-so's parents wouldn't agree with you at all". And I'm not negating the horrible, tragic, awful experiences of those children and parents. But, and I repeat myself, these things are so very rare.

And - of course - they happen. I just looked it up - 115 children a year are abducted by strangers. Out of all the children who are abducted every year - apparently somewhere around 800,000 - 1.4% of child abductions are by strangers. My children are more likely to be killed in a car wreck than abducted by a stranger. They are more likely to die of cancer than be abducted by a stranger. They are more likely to die by my own hands (due to abuse/neglect) than be abducted by a stranger. They are more likely to die by their own hands than be abducted by a stranger.

And again, I am not downplaying the horror of a child being abducted. Even one child is too many. I see and hear about the awful, horrible things children experience. Every. Single. Day. I get the fear and the overpowering desire to protect our children. I'm just pointing out that of the thousands of things I have to worry about, the plethora of things that could happen to my children, being abducted by strangers is about the least likely thing there is.

Also, what I am saying is that when we shelter our children too much, we prevent them from being able to adequately prepare themselves for the world we do live in. We keep them from knowing how to interact in the world in a capable and safe way. What we communicate to our children is that not only do we believe the world to be unsafe and untrustworthy, we believe that they themselves are unsafe and untrustworthy. We can tell our children all we want how to behave and handle themselves in the world. But children do not learn by simply hearing what we have to tell them. They learn by doing. Trying, failing and trying again. And by us not giving them the chance to do, we do them a disservice, perhaps making them even less safe.

So, I guess what I'm saying is overall, I get it. I feel the same fear. But I also fear what happens to my children if I don't allow them the opportunities to experience the world and learn how to interact in it on their own? What happens if I don't help them feel capable? What happens if I am always there? Will they be able to know what to do when I'm not there? Because - of course - that day will come. Does this mean I plan to drop my 6yo off at the park by himself for the afternoon. Hell, no. But that, really, has little to do with other people. It is because there is no telling what that child would get into at this point. He isn't yet capable of keeping himself safe (i.e. keeping out of the road when he sees a pretty butterfly on the other side). But I hope, then the day comes that he is ready, I am able to overcome my own fears, and show him that I trust him.

Today's lesson: Parenting is not static. The way we do it can, and should change. As in all things, we should take time to occasionally consider whether there is anything we can/should/want to do differently. As people we evolve. So do our children. Thus, so should the way we parent them.


Venessa said...

I work in the mental and behavioral health field as a family I totally get where you are coming from. It is hard to parent because we do see some not so nice parts of society. We definitely see things in a different way and it can be hard to adjust that view when parenting our own children. I catch myself often questioning my rational about certain things. Thank you for sharing!

Peg said...

Just like most things, I think it comes down to having a balance...not too hovering and not too loosey goosey when it comes to kids. We don't get fast food every day but every once in a while a little Mickey D's isn't a big deal. I'm not going to let Liam (age 5) walk across the street to the park by himself yet, but I do let him play in the back yard (no fence) if I can see him from the windows while I cook or definitely if his siblings are outside too.

I also don't want to raise my kids with a feeling of fear. We've had enough of that with the car accident. Use common sense, but hopefully not make it so my fears manifest themselves in their behavior.

Anyway, sorry for the rambling...great post.

Nisha said...

Still totally agree with you. I don't want to live in fear.

AS said...

This is so hard. I relish my free childhood, and want my daughter to experience that, but the local kid who got murdered when his parents let him walk alone for the very first time is always in the back of my mind. I suppose I'll confront each bridge as we come to it.