Sitting in a park with my friend, as our kids were jumping through the monkey bars and running through the grass, it occurred to me that we had reached a point in our life where we could just sit down and have a conversation with each other, turn around every so often and say “no – that’s dangerous”, or “don’t do that ’cause you’ll get hurt” to the kids and they would listen! Then the realization hit me that not only were we cautioning and “saving” our children from disastrous (in our minds) endings but we had taken away from them their imagination, creativity, spontaneity and the ability to discover fearlessly. It is a bittersweet transition because we (the adults) can actually sit at a park bench and have a conversation or relax and not have to run behind our toddlers constantly. Yet, we just took away the natural tendencies of our children to explore, discover and tread fearlessly- even in an environment as sterile as a park.
This brings me to a very important point of who is in charge, or rather, who should be in charge of a child’s discovery phase. Where is the balance? What should we do? Should we let our kids just go off and wander into “dangerous” territory? Or should we curb their appetite for adventure and curiosity? Is it best to cheat them and have them think that they’re being raised as carefree individuals while actually manipulating their choices by placing them in a sterilized and sanitized environment so that the results will, for sure, be safe?
With articles recently trending that put mothers under the legal microscope of “neglect” for letting kids play on their street, these become very difficult questions to answer. What parents of 20 years ago did with their children is unimaginable in today’s world. I’ve heard of a parent being threatened of “neglect” by a neighbor for letting her boys (ages 7 and 9) ride their scooters in their cul de sac while she cooked in the kitchen. I’ve also heard of parents being stopped by strangers in a parking lot to be told that they were “abusing” their children for forcing their wailing toddler to buckle up in a car seat.
Do we in turn transfer these fears perpetrated by society onto our children? Do we fear for ourselves or for them, really? One mother I know was panicking while taking her child to the ER for a severe cough, because she feared doctors would take her daughter away under the pretext of neglect or abuse as she had not taken the child to see a doctor in time. In a world where child abuse in at an all time high, I can on one hand see the reason for paranoia- both in parents and authorities, yet I don’t seem to understand the constant threat of CPS looming overhead and the abandoning of general common sense.
Parenting experts such as Barbara Coloroso and Dr. Leonard Sax constantly tell parents to assert their authority, but firmness with a toddler, albeit in speech, is now being labeled as abuse! It has always been through fear that we give up or loose our rights and I see the same trend happening with parenting and the fear of abuse. To me, this is frightening.
I’m not a parent who could ever dish out the iron fist nor am I one who, in Coloroso’s terms, would be called a “brick wall” parent. Yet I see the benefits of setting limits, doling out consequences and remedying errors from the time our kids are little. Today parents are afraid of emotionally scarring their kids and damaging their self esteem to such a degree that they are unknowingly raising Cain. A psychologist friend of mine tells me how studies show those raised with strict rules and responsibilities tend to be stronger, self confident and loving adults. Dr. Leonard Sax mentions in his talks the story of the young teen whose parents were watching her closely and setting limits for her that her friend’s response to this was, “I wish my parents cared about me this much!”
It seems like children crave the parenting boundaries that come with care, love and concern. Parents want to discipline, teach and raise a responsible adult and society surely needs well adjusted, responsible, caring adults. So, under what pretext are we giving up our parenting authority and for what reason are we afraid to teach our children and raise them well?