Thursday, June 12, 2014

Safe parenting

In the last couple of months I've spent a lot of time thinking about, and reading about, safety.  In particular - what boundaries I need to give my growing children to keep them safe, and yet let them develop some independence.  I started considering it in Portland, which was the first place we've lived where I could realistically send the kids out the door and say "be back by the time it gets dark".  Around that time I also came across this video for "Odds Are", which continues to give me lots of laughs, and also lots to contemplate.

An online article called "The day I left my son in the car" crossed my path last week, which brought the issue back to light (at the same time that we've started letting our kids bike to and from school on their own, on the easiest-most direct-bike path route we've ever had).  And that one led me back to a favorite Atlantic Magazine article, "The overprotected kid" .  Before I knew it I was reading up on Lenore Skenazy and the Free Range Kids movement.  I just got her book out of the library.

An interesting thing happened in the middle of all of this.  A couple of days ago, while the 5 of us were out hiking in Squamish, there was a shooting outside our apartment building.  When we returned home, the entire area was roped off with police tape, and several of our lobby's tall glass windows were shattered.  It apparently involved the owner of the bike shop across the street, and a disgruntled ex-employee, who tried to race off on his bike along the same path we take to school & site, and was eventually gunned down by police.  A mess - and not at all something you'd expect in a posh area of a Canadian city.

I posted something about it on Facebook, and many people responded with "so glad you're safe!" or "stay safe!" … and this got me thinking even more about security and precautions.

This is probably the closest my kids and I have ever come to a violent crime.  Though we didn't see it, it was just a matter of timing - the bloody victim was lying outside our front door on a Tuesday around 11am.  On Wednesday around that time, we would have been near the lobby on our way to school.  But there is no imaginable way that we could have "stayed safer" or put ourselves at less risk (other than staying at home all the time with the doors locked?)

On the other hand, we spent 10 years living in a gritty part of Philadelphia, down the street from one of the city's "persistently dangerous" high schools.  The streets near our home are frequented by ex-cons and drug dealers - but even more people who are, themselves, victims of bad choices and bad luck, health problems and financial problems, addictions and mental illness.  We all generally stay out of each other's way.

Here in Yaletown, we are no less safe today than we were yesterday.  The random bit of violence that crossed our path isn't any more likely to cross it again.  I still sent Baz out that same door alone this morning, on his way to school.

Lenore Skenazy, in her book, has a lot of excellent points.  Her first chapter is called "Know When to Worry", which talks about accurate assessment of risk.  I like this line:

The greatest risk of all just might be trying to raise a child who never encounters any risks.

We live in a very fearful society - and a judgmental one as well.  One of our fears is that our peers will point out some poor decision, some neglect, some way in which we were terrible parents.   And that this momentous task we've taken on - of bringing new babies into the world and releasing them as good, contributing citizens - will be entirely botched by our irresponsibility.

I'm beginning to believe that the solution to this is not more vigilance.  That I will never be able to protect my kids from everything - even from a random act of violence like the one we saw this week.  And that a better strategy must be to teach them some risk-assessment and problem-solving skills of their own.  Those kinds of things can't be learned through explanation - they have to get out in the world and try things.

What will it be like in a few weeks, when we really have to make these choices for the first time in our permanent home?  When we have to decide if the kids will be left home alone, or allowed to walk unescorted to school, or get cell phones?  

Stay tuned….

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