It’s a fine line between protecting our kids and wanting our kids to be adventurous and safe. We want them to have what we had when we were little, yet we also believe that the world has become an increasingly dangerous place.
How do we give our kids the freedom they need to learn to become independent while protecting them from the world around them?
It’s a difficult question, with no definitive answer. However, here are some reflections on this issue of when safety consciousness can become a neurosis.
Protecting Our Kids: How Much Safety Is Enough?
Many of the safety measures we parents use seem like common sense. When traveling by car, you need special car seats and safety belts. These are the kinds of details an accident attorney would look at in any legal case resulting from an accident. Most of us also teach our children to look right and left before crossing the street and waiting for the right moment to cross in the absence of a walk sign.
However, not allowing kids to go out in the backyard unsupervised, going over to play with their friends next door, or visiting a play area in the local park is pushing the limits of precaution too far.
Children who are overprotected find it difficult to think for themselves, to stretch their imagination, and to grow as self-reliant adults.
Is the World Really More Dangerous?
When we were little, our parents were fine with letting us bike to our friend’s house and return at the end of the day. They were fine with letting us go to the park to sit on the swing for hours. And they were fine with letting us spend plenty of time outdoors climbing trees or swimming in the nearby creek.
The reason they were fine with all these things was because they did not think the world as dangerous a place as we do now.
Today, we think of awful scenarios: pedophiles lurking around schools, kidnappers waiting to abduct innocent children to extort a ransom from parents, and hoodlums looking for easy victims. Naturally, with all these thoughts lurking at the back of our minds, it only makes sense that we would rather be too cautious than put our child in harm’s way.
However, where did we get these ideas from in the first place?
The negative bias of the media is largely responsible for selecting the worst stories about human behavior, the saddest incidents, and the most heartbreaking family tragedies.
What’s more, they often cover regional news to make it seem that an imminent threat lurks quite close. Even if the traumatic incident happened in a different state or different country, the news is related in a way that creates a sense of clear and imminent danger in our own neck of the woods.
It’s not that bad things didn’t happen to good people when we were little and that our parents had less to worry about in that bygone era. What’s different now is that the media highlights the negative to such an extent that we think bad things happen much more often than they actually do.
Obviously, the media does this to get attention. Nobody is interested in hearing about a normal day or how local families had plenty of fun doing unremarkable things. It’s too boring. What works better is finding some disturbing incident that happened and gets everyone to relate to how it could happen to them, too. However, if the world is as dangerous as the media encourages us to believe, maybe we adults should stay indoors all the time, too.
The world has not gotten more dangerous than when we were little. There were all sorts of tragic national and international events happening when we were little, too. John F. Kennedy got shot sitting in a car. The Vietnam war sent tens of thousands of young men to their deaths. America has faced one traumatic decade after another. The “Leave it to Beaver” era never really existed. What is different now is that media coverage has increased exponentially, making us far more aware of the terrible things that happen to people. Before cable TV and 24-hour news coverage, we didn’t know about most of the weird things that happened.
Cultural Propagation of the Meme
The idea that the world is a dangerous place is further exacerbated by school district policies, by cautionary warnings in parenting magazines, and by conversations with helicopter parents. The meme that it’s not safe to go out and play is reinforced over and over again. It’s no wonder that we worry ourselves to death when our kids are out of our sight or not sitting in captivity in a classroom or in the safe confines of an extracurricular activity.
Putting Things in Perspective
Yes, the world is a dangerous place. However, it’s dangerous for everyone, not just our kids. And, what’s more, it has always been unsafe for humans to live on this planet. While we do our best to protect them from the dangers of the world, we also have to avoid disempowering them by limiting their freedom of self-expression to a neurotic extent. Perhaps, it’s time we gave our children permission to play outside more.
Images from Pixabay.com