There was a very scary incident recently involving a teenage boy in my community. He was alone waiting to be picked up during early evening hours and was approached by a male adult predator who attempted to get the boy in the car. The boy refused, ran away and hid until his parent arrived at the scheduled time.
The most common and understandable reaction to this is, ‘I’ll never leave my kids alone again.’ I disagree. I think it is a mistake to parent in such a way as to try and eliminate every possible danger, especially for teenage kids. I believe in reasonable, not total precautions.
The hidden dangers of being overprotected can never compare to being abducted, but they are occur often and have a price as well. Lack of confidence, lack of initiative, lack of street smarts etc.
Here’s an example of reasonable vs total precautions. For the sake of this example, we are talking about teenagers. Not leaving a child alone in a secluded or abandoned area is a reasonable precaution. Not leaving them alone in a normal residential area with people and traffic is a total precaution. When are teenage kids supposed to develop street smarts and coping skills? They can’t read a book to get those abilities and we can’t talk it into them. They will not magically get those powers when they turns 18, or do we plan to shelter them into their 20’s? The self-confidence has to be encouraged and nurtured in them during the teenage years. Should parenting be based on extremely rare and cataclysmic possibilities?
I believe that it is a disservice to totally shelter a teenage child, but not as much as abandoning one, obviously. From a parenting perspective, the intentions are polar opposites. But isn’t the goal to avoid harming the child, not sparing the parents feelings or guilt? To send a child unprepared to deal with things, especially dangerous things, into high school, college and adulthood is not doing them any favors.
In this incident, the boy stood up to the predator by refusing to get in the car and then running away. I worry that the type of kids who have been excessively sheltered may not have it in them to refuse in the first place. I would be devastated if something like that ever happened to any child I know. But my goal as a parent is to see that they, like the boy in the incident, they have the wherewithal to refuse and run away, not that they never possibly find himself themselves in danger.
The fear of course with saying something like that out loud, let alone writing it down, is that the unthinkable would actually happen to a child in that person’s life. At which point, the possible sheltering concerns I mentioned, likely become secondary and we would trade all other possible ill effects from ‘totally protective’ parenting for an unharmed child. But is that the right time or the right way to think about this? Because if it is, then we have to talk about why we have cars and pools, or why we allow kids in either?
Should we talk, write and parent so as to not be culpable in any way possible should evil, or just plain misfortune, come into the lives of our kids? I don’t believe that’s what my Catholic faith teaches. Our faith teaches us to not be afraid. It is very difficult to practice that with all the possible dangers which surround our kids and us. But when it comes to our kids, when and how do we show them, how and why we are unafraid?
I know there are dissenting views on this, I welcome your comments.