How many times have you said to yourself, “things sure have changed since I was a kid”?
We say that too, and we think of our childhoods as having been a bit more carefree than our kids’ are today. By this we mean that even at a young age, saying goodbye to your parents in the morning and not returning home until dinner time was common. Did our parents worry? Were they paranoid that something would happen to us? Did they overprotect us? I think not, or at least not as much so as we do in this day and age.
It’s not our fault. Every day, we see stories in the media about children being harmed. As a parent reading these stories, one cannot help but be scared and affected. The days of a child hopping on his bike and roaming the neighborhood have all but disappeared. Why? Well, we know too much now. We know that letting our kids ride off into the sunset is not a “safe” choice. Once you “know” – you know, and this changes the way we parent.
But is there no alternative to being a paranoid, worrying, helicopter-parent or a parent that gives their child too much space in the world without a care or worry?
We bring to you another choice – The Educated Parent. The educated parent does not shy away from learning the challenges and potential dangers that exist in raising a child in today’s society. The educated parent seeks information about these issues and teaches their children about avoiding danger. This parent teaches his/her children about their personal safety each and every day. This is not a one-time conversation, but an ongoing communication between parent and child.
In today’s world, this is crucial because we do not want to raise our children to become frightened of the world we live in and dependent on their parents. Our goal in teaching our children about personal safety is to know that we have taught our children to both survive and thrive in the world.
Our job as parents is to raise children who are confident and independent. Yes, kids can and will make mistakes, but they will learn from them to make safer and smarter choices. If we never give our children the opportunity for independence, they will become entirely dependent on you (the parent) for a lifetime. I know you have seen it. College students that can’t cope with being away from home. High school students whose parents are at the school every day complaining about things their child could certainly handle.
The line between letting go and holding on is a fine one and you’ll never let let go if you don’t think your child handle it. So what do you do? How do you become an educated parent?
Start with communication from a very young age. Talk with your children in a very natural manner about the “what if’s” and how to respond to various situations.
For example: at age 10 (or whatever age you deem appropriate for your child), your child asks if he/she can start walking alone to a friend’s house. There is no specified age when a child is “old enough” to take on more independence (staying home alone, walking around town, etc.) The concept of being an educated parent is that over time, you have taught your children the foundations of everyday safety skills. Discuss this newly earned privilege and do a few practice runs until you feel confident that she/he will make the right choices along th way and will know what to do if anything comes up. Talk about the “what if’s” as you walk to the friend’s house a block away. The point is that by the time they have earned this new independence, the skills below are already a part of their everyday habits that you, the Educated Parent, have taught them.
Here are those skills:
- Walk on the sidewalk, not the street.
- Carry your cell phone at all times.
- Do not talk on the phone or listen to an iPod.
- Be aware of your surroundings.
- If a care drives by repeatedly, take five steps away – if the person in the car tries to talk to you, explain to your child he/she does NOT have to listen to what the person in saying. Remind your child that strange adults should never ask children for help. Children should turn in the opposite direction of the car and proceed to closest designated house.
- Discuss a code word they can text you if they are uncomfortable or not feeling safe either on their walk or at their destination.
- Walk and talk with your child many times until you feel they can make the safest and smartest choice when walking alone.
- They must call or text you when they get to their friends house.
- They must call or text you when they are going to return home.
Once you have taught your child what he needs to know to navigate the walk from your house to a friend’s, let him try it (even if you still have some trepidation). Maybe he texts you midway because he is nervous; maybe he gets to the friend’s house and forgets to call you. This is all part of the learning process. Perhaps he needs more practice runs.
But he might just get it. He walks to the friend’s house and texts you he is there. He text you when they are leaving the house to come home. Your child gets home safe and sound and is proud of his increased independence. Your child has taken a crucial step in his development and so have you.