For years I’ve wrestled with how protective I should be of my children. This has been a particularly bad news week for a mom who worries. When it feels like there’s terrible news everywhere I look, it’s usually time to take another news blackout. Or just continue to rely on Jon Stewart to sort it out for me.
But the question remains, how do you protect your children from random violence, and how do you explain it to them when they get old enough to understand?
The wonderful news of three women being released from their captivity in Ohio was nothing but a triumph. At the same time, I can’t stop wrestling with the chilling questions this event leaves in its wake. How many more are there? What happens to missing children? How well do we know our neighbors?
A new hero emerged from the publicity around this news. It was Elizabeth Smart, whose story I was transfixed by years ago, but I had thought faded into a much-deserved quiet life. No, in fact she’s out there advocating and has unbelievably brilliant things to say. I am still transfixed by her.
In this clip she describes a safety program for kids called radKIDS (Resisting Aggression Defensively). The program is not just for preventing abduction but also addresses bullying, molesting, and child abuse. Even if parents don’t want to think about this topic, I cannot imagine a better way to give our kids tools they need to defend themselves.
I knew one child care provider who did a safety training with her kids. She had them sit in a circle and – after warning her neighbors what she was up to – would grab each child and have them scream for their lives. I was torn about this practice. My first reaction was, how gruesome, and aren’t they scared? Her response was, “They should be.”
I hate it. I hate that we have to raise children in a world like this but it’s just reality. And here’s the interesting part. She said the kids loved it, and they felt empowered and happy when the training was over. Well, what kid doesn’t love the chance to scream as loud and long as they possibly can?
But the training made them feel like they had strength. And one of the things Elizabeth Smart said was that she’d never said no to an adult. We need to teach our kids that they damn well can say no to anyone, anytime.
One of my sons took a year of tae kwon do and gained immensely from it in a variety of ways. While I think it would help him if God forbid he was ever attacked, his learning was beyond the self-defense capabilities. It was about having strength and confidence in yourself, and that’s what our kids need in any situation, on a daily basis. (Especially in middle school.)
This is about turning fear into empowerment. For parents, it means we must stop being in denial and simply have direct conversations with our kids. It is said that we should take this talk as seriously, and have it as often, as we talk to our kids about sex and drugs. But at an even younger age. And we should not just give dire warnings of “Look out for bad people,” but instead ask, “What would you do in this situation?” And then, here’s what you do: flip out as if your life depended on it.
Ironically, at at time in their lives when people tend to be incredibly overprotective of children, I give the toddlers and preschoolers in my care immense freedom. Our climbers are really climbers – with kids not just using the steps but sitting on top of them yelling, “Mommy! Look at me!”
It makes everybody nervous but I say, let them explore while they still can. I think about the freedom my boys don’t get and the skills they may not be learning from being simply alone in the world and figuring it out.
I’ve bemoaned this with many parents over the years. We all spent hours alone, riding bikes or wandering in the woods, or running through the neighborhood with our crew, away from the prying eyes of our parents. This way of life doesn’t exist anymore and I worry about what my kids are missing out on.
At the same time, we do awesome things with them. We challenge them in different ways, be it soccer games or hikes where they can climb five stories up on rock walls. I have to come to a point where I realize that it’s OK to be as protective as I want to be. I’m done living with the stress of somehow failing to give them enough freedom.
In the end, every time I send them out the door, they will go with my prayers for their safety and blind hope and faith for the best. They will only be armed with whatever skills I’ve given them to be smart and protect themselves. This is one place where I cannot fail.