I love this post by Veronica, about “how do you encourage independence while keeping your kids safe”.
I want my kids to be independent and have fun, but it’s most important that they be safe.
I try to teach my kids about personal safety and making good choices, because I know I won’t always be there with them. But honestly, I have a hard time trusting other parents with my kids. Other parents – and other families – have different rules and values. And sometimes they conflict with your rules and values.
Sometimes I’m shocked by what is “ok” for other families. Like the time I dropped my 8 year old son off at his friend’s house for a birthday party and afterwards, talking to him, found out that they didn’t go see the PG movie that was planned, but instead went to PG-13 rated “Daredevil”. Oh, and there were too many people in the car, so he rode in the back, in the cargo area with some other kids. Without seatbelts.
Last summer, we were invited to a picnic at a local state park. The theme for Ithaca is – “Ithaca is Gorges” – because we are fortunate to be surrounded by many wonderful waterfalls and gorgeous gorges.
Chatting with another mom at the picnic, I realized I couldn’t see my youngest – my 10 year old girl – on the playground anymore. I couldn’t see a couple of other girls from the picnic that she had been playing with, either. I waved my boys over, and asked where she was. Was she on the other side of the playground, behind the tree? They said they hadn’t seen her in around 10 minutes.
10 minutes?! My heart started racing.
I ran to the playground – about 50 feet away. She definitely wasn’t there. I checked the side of the playground behind the tree. Nope, not there either. I asked another parent if they had seen the kids. They said “Oh yeah, they went to climb the waterfall.” Huh?
Apparently, a couple of the kids had wanted to climb the big waterfall above the swimming area. They had asked their parents if they could go. Their parents had said yes, if one of the older kids – a 13 year old boy – would go with them. So, all the kids, ages 6 to 13, had headed to the waterfall. With no adults.
I walked as fast as I could, with my bum ankle I had injured a couple days before. Across the playground, down the trail, past the bridge, and down the trail on the other side, toward the trail that led up past the waterfall.
And there was my daughter. Sitting by herself, at the bottom of the waterfall. All alone. In a wooded, secluded, public place. Where anyone could have taken her, and no one would have even seen it.
Looking up, I could see the kids, clambering on the rocks, up above the swimming hole.
I yelled at them to come down, but they couldn’t hear me over the sound of the rushing water.
Feeling helpless and frustrated, I figured I would at least stay there and be the adult on site. My parenting instincts would not let me leave. If someone fell, I could at least call for help.
A group of people were hiking down the trail that ran alongside the waterfall. They yelled for the kids to come down. But the kids either couldn’t hear, or wouldn’t listen. When the group reached the bottom of the falls, where I was standing, they yelled at me – How could I allow my kids to do something so unsafe? Didn’t I know climbing on the falls is against the rules? The word ‘stupid’ went by. They shook their heads at me as they passed.
I burned inside.
A young couple came down the hiking trail a few minutes later. The guy climbed out onto the falls, and went right up to a couple of the kids. Slowly, one by one, the kids started straggling across the stream at the top of the falls, toward the trail. The couple came down the trail, and proceeded to lecture me. About how dangerous it was to allow kids to climb on the waterfall. How it was against park rules. How something could happen to them!
I seethed inside. And said, “I know, I know.”
As the kids came down the trail one by one, the mom that had given permission came waltzing up the trail toward me and the waterfall. She was all smiles. “Was it fun, kids?”
I left. Before I said something I would regret.
While we were standing there, watching and waiting, I praised my girl for doing the right thing and not climbing the waterfall. But, I asked, why she had gone with them? House rules are ‘you don’t go anywhere without letting mom or dad know where you are going’. She said she went because she knew it was a bad idea, and she tried to talk them out of it on the way to the waterfall. But they wouldn’t listen. And so she just sat there, watching them climb.
I told her she had done the right thing by not climbing, but what she should have done was come to get me and tell me what was going on and where she was going. She said “There wasn’t time, Mom, they just ran.” I knew she had done her best, but she had broken the rules, and so she would be grounded for 4 weeks.
I wasn’t angry with her. I was proud of her for trying to do the right thing.
I was angry with the other parent for putting her in danger. We were lucky. No one was hurt or taken. But it could very easily have ended differently.
A long time ago, I read somewhere that you should treat your kid like they’re worth a million dollars. I mean, kids really are priceless, but, a million dollars in the sense of: Would you leave a million dollars, alone, unattended, in your car? Would you leave a million dollars in a playground, out in plain sight, unattended, while you are chatting with another parent?
So, how do you balance encouraging independence with your precious child’s safety?
Encourage adventure, but with a watchful eye. And common sense. And a priority of safety first. Teach them how to make good choices.
The fact of the matter is there will be many times the care of your child will be entrusted to someone else – at daycare, school, grandparents, church, boy/girl scouts, playdates, birthday parties, field trips. Teach your kids about how to have fun while being safe, about inappropriate touching, about what is right and what is wrong. And then, give them some ideas of what they should do if they find themselves in a dangerous situation. No lectures necessary – every moment is a teachable moment.
When I leave my kids in the care of someone else, I expect them to be returned to me safe and whole; when I watch other people’s kids I make sure of the same.
I’m not a perfect parent. I know. But, other parents aren’t perfect either. And sometimes, they can surprise you. And not in a good way.
Trust your judgment, and your heart. And do what’s right for your kids and your family. No apologies.
What about you?