October 7, 2009

Do We 'Over Shelter' our Kids?

A topic came up the other day on this blog, and I have been thinking about it ever since.

Do we over shelter our kids in America?

I believe many of us do.

Some of us have somehow come to believe that it is our duty to shelter our kids (and ourselves!) from every discomfort. From every pang of want.

We spoil. Oh yes, many of us do. No one wants to be called out on it, but oh! How we spoil. (I am SO included here.) We forget to teach our children to work hard and obtain goals. We lower the bars. We lift them up. They swing lazily and quickly get bored.

I worry for the generations coming up behind me. And even the generation I am in. Where are the strong men going to come from with a history like that? A history of watered-down reality? Where will be the men who know the value of hard work? Or the women who are full of assurance and can pick out a rotten apple from a mile away... kicking it to the curb because she knows she deserves only the choicest of fare?

I believe we over shelter when we accept the mentality that our kids should have a carefree existence... When we bend over backwards and break ourselves in half (financially? emotionally?) in the name of their constant happiness. When we rip off the heads of those who step on their toes. (we blame this one on the 'mother bear instinct'.) When we hide our children's eyes from the real world instead of teaching them how to grow to be tenacious men and women within it.

I am not saying you should go and expose your small children to the horrors of the nightly news or even the mind-numbing ads on TV that constantly berate them with the fact that they are not good enough as they are. I'm not saying you should let your children juggle knives or wander the streets alone for hours on end.

Of course I am not saying that. We are called to protect them from harm. But I think some of us let our fear take the upper hand and we end up 'protecting' them from life.

I believe that we are called to lead our children through the world by strong example. We should turn OFF the tv and engage in conversation with our friends and neighbors- with people who are different than us and don't share every single belief that we do. We should exemplify lives of adventure and risk. We should show them that we love our bodies and that we love who we are so they can learn to look in the mirror and do the same. We should live vibrantly, casting off fear, so that they can follow suit. We should talk them through hardships and pain and heartache with wisdom and the experience of having been there ourselves.

Because that's the truth! We've all been there ourselves! By trying to shield our kids from pain, we may be ultimately failing to prepare them for it. It WILL come. Sooner or later, we all face harsh realities. And if our kids don't have a realistic base to stand on when those very real realities show up, they are going to resort to the only model they have been shown... they will search for the easy way out every single time. They will think the world owes them everything they desire, a bump-free path, and they will never become the strong history-making men and women we all desire them to be.



Karen, Scott, and Jared said...

Loooove this. :-)

Rita Ortloff said...

So true.

Just this evening I begged Dave to fast forward through the part of the nature show that silmed the lion eating the antelope. I didn't want Will to see the killing.

Dave said "that's nature".

I'm sure he was right. **gulp**

Liz said...

I agree with you to a point. My husband and I firmly agree that there are things we should shield our kids from until they are much older because of the fact that it would cause them immense amounts of pain. In this case, I am talking about a very personal family situation that does not happen to everyone. Most people would agree that this is a shielding type thing.

On the other hand I think that we can't sheild our kids from everything, but we should make sure that the things they are exposed to are age appropriate. For example, when my son's older cousins get overly aggressive with him, we remove him from the situation so he doesn't get hurt. But when another kid his age gets a bit aggressive, I watch but don't automatically intervene.

I think what you are saying has a lot of validity because we do live in a society that looks for the easy way out of things, and I agree that it is our responsibility as parents to teach our kids to deal with a wide variety of things head on.

Thanks for the thoughts. :)

Emery Jo said...

Liz- i agree with your point about 'age appropriateness'. Though, I think it's important to listen to your gut when it comes to those things (like you are doing with your family situation) rather than follow any set guideline about 'this age can do this' or 'that age can do that'. We know our kids better than anyone else, and are the best judges for what they are ready (or not ready) to process. Good point!

Mama Bird said...

When I read this post, I think about parents who don't let their children ride the school bus, or parents who are afraid to fly on air planes, so their children never see the world, or parents who are {overly} paranoid of germs, so their kids never play on play grounds.

I like the paragraph where you talked about being the example for our kids. {"casting off fear"}

Good stuff.

The Thompson Family said...

Very thought provoking. I'm a helicopter mom. I hover. I know it and can't seem to stop myself. I think it's because I feel the need to control the situation, protect my daughter. (I actually just did a blog about my desire to control). In reality though, when I think about my own childhood, I think that one of the reasons that I'm such a strong woman is because of all the adversity that I had to deal with. Despite my own growth through adversity, I can't help but want my daughters path to be smooth. I think baby #2 will help me to relax and stop hovering. That, and daily prayer, that I'll trust God's will for my children instead of trying to force my will by hovering. Thanks for making me reflect on my own weakness. :)

Samurai Scrivener said...

I think the way we perceive threat to children today is a lot different than, say, before the prevalency of the Internet. Back then, if there was talk about a child predator, unsafe toys or clothing, etc, it was pretty limited to what you overheard or read in the news. But now that such stories from all over the world are readily accessible, and pretty much in your face every time you go online, it makes it seem like the world is a more dangerous place for children to live in than it really is.

The pain and danger that children will ultimately experience is unpredictable. I agree that most of the time intuition dictates what is okay and what they're too young for. But I think it's far more important to provide kids with examples of good behavior, politeness, and sticking up for themselves when they need to rather than worrying about what they need to be shielded from. If they have those good examples to live by, they'll be able to protect themselves.

It looks like you and Chris are doing a wonderful job with your boys. I'm amazed to read about Ezra helping out around the house, doing the dishes, and looking after his brother at a very young age. My parents couldn't have gotten me to do that at twice his age. Way to go!

MEGAN said...

I think you are talking overall, about GOOD parents. Committed parents try to over shelter, loving parents don't want their kids to feel pain...that's natural. I've been in many homes where there is NO SHELTERING, and it breaks my heart. Kids seeing drunk/drug addicted parents day in and day out. So, sure, shelter your kids to an extent, but, like you said, also show them the world!

Emery Jo said...

samurai- i agree with your point about the internet (and also the media) leading us to believe that things are far more treacherous on the other side of our front door than they really are. yes indeed.

megan- yes. i know that there are children out there who have no sheltering at all... and it breaks my heart too.

maybe we 'hover-ers' (haha thompson fam i love that) should spend some of that excessive 'hovering time' with kids who have no one to help guide them at all... i think that would be good for everyone involved- us, our own children, and the kids who are in need of good examples in their lives...

Catherine Hansen Peart said...

Amen to that. What I read in your post is that we are too concerned about making their lives as rosy as possible and I have been thinking about this seriously myself recently. My kids have it way too good. We are fortunate enough to live as expats and have a maid, nice house, nice lifestyle etc. but I am slowly watching my kids get used to that (entitled even) and feeling increasingly uncomfortable by it. So, I am off to write up a chore chart and give these kids some work to do and the sense of accomplishment that comes with that! Life is not one long ride of entertainment - how boring and soul sucking that would be.

Hunnybee said...

This morning my eleven month old daughter fell and bumped her head, while pulling her self up on a piece of furniture. She hasn't learned how to fully walk on her own yet, so of course there are lots of bumps and bruises and sometimes tears, like this morning. While I was holding her my husband jokingly says to me, "We should get her a helmet or something until she learns to walk." I laughed and then told me that I've seen baby helmets for sale in kid's catalogs. Knee pads and elbow pads, too. Just to wear around the house, while learning to walk! He and I just shook our heads in wonderment. (Is that a word? Maybe I made it up. idk)
As much as I hate my babies tears, I'm always there to scoop her up and love her. It takes about 22.8 seconds for her to forget what happened, and then squirm her way out of my arms and back to that big, mean coffee table, ready for another round.
It's always a balancing act. Let them have freedom, but protect them from what could cause permanent harm.
A friend mine has a teenage daughter who suffered a serious head injury as a young child. She was riding her bike (with a helmet) and collided with a truck. It was an accident. It couldn't have been prevented. Her mother watched helplessly as the whole thing happened. It was the first time she had let her daughter ride alone on one of their family bike rides.
Guess what? They still ride bikes. They still enjoy life. Their daughter will never be the same, but she is excelling at life despite the injuries. The family went on to adopt more children and they as a whole are a thriving, inspiring family!
Life happens. Even when you try, you'll never be able to protect them from anything, so you just have to pick your battles. It's different for every child, but that's where instinct and lots of prayer comes in!
Thanks for opening up this topic. It's a much needed discussion.
Sorry such a long comment, too!

A thankful heart said...

I agree with so much of this debate:) I also have soo many thoughts on this! We have three young boys 8mths-6yrs. and we live up on a secluded hill in SLO county,at the end of the road..we found out through a neighbor that 2doors down was a child sex offender. he owned some womans gyms on the central coast and was a VERY friendly guy...of course:) but we had NO clue, until a neighbor attended a town meeting to learn where all the offenders live in our vicinity..did that change my feelings on free time out side alone...YES! Our neighbor was at the business end of the gyms, so he was always home, running on our road, riding his bike, stopping to chat...my boys really liked him, as did we!.

The moment I knew about how he molested young children, was the moment my kids stopped playing alone outside! Is that sheltering...no I don't believe it is..I think that is being a parent! He just moved to Utah and my kids can play alone outside again...I think there needs to be boundaries and like you said, KNOW your child! Do I jump up if my boys fall off their bikes..nope..I respond to their response... usually they get up, dust their knees and keep riding!
Also, FOR FUN...get this, my boys LOVE to do yard work and earn a quarter!! They feel manly and they really like the pat on the back:) They especially lov when my husband or my dad praise them:) We need to find the balance of trusting God, AND implementing wise parenting!!

Hunnybee said...

Emery, have you checked out the freerangekids.com website. It's a long these lines and really interesting. Just thought you might want to check it out. -melissa

Christopher Clark said...

I wonder about gender roles here??

As much as mothers may tend to lean toward sheltering there children. Fathers may tend to lean toward an absent presence in there children's lives. I don't mean physically. I mean emotionally and practically. It is a great temptation for a man to unplug and disconnect with reality after a days work. To say hi to the family, give hugs and kisses and then check out. We do this by turning on the T.V. or gluing ourselves to a computer screen, or by engaging in some hobby, all the while leaving the already spent mother to tend to the children until bed time. I am guilty of such acts.

I am learning that as a father I MUST be present. I need to spend time on the floor with my boys, or spend time outside riding bikes, or playing ball, or including them in my list of things to do. Anything that makes them feel like they are a part of my life. It's during this time that I can teach my boys about what life may bring them and how they can deal with it. Allowing them to experience life with me, with bumps and all.

I know this isn't the case with all families....some times the roles may be switched, or both parents check out because of exhaustion....or maybe some have it all together....but I do know that this is something I am fighting for in mine!

Who has time for Quality Time...


Anonymous said...

Amen - I love this! All of this!! Hope and Jojo's mom

R-becca said...

This seems like a really funny thing to say, but after reading this, I thought, "wow...I think I am going to be a good mom someday."

Thanks Emery for your honesty!

Kerri Foster said...

I was JUST talking with a girlfriend about this today! We were talking about how when are kids do something that we should let them have the natural consequences that follow. Example: Maddie forgot her jacket at school. So the following morning at the bus stop I made her walk outside without a jacket on. She was cold but I knew she wouldn't forget that jacket again! I hated doing that but forced myself to so that she would learn the importance of remembering things you bring to school. I know that's just a small thing, but I think the small things lead to our kids handling the bigger thing better. Do you think so?

MOMMY-MOMO said...

This too has been on my mind...You said it all! I love and agree with all of this!!!

Andrea June said...

Yay, Emery and yay, Chris! You guys are awesome parents and I think it's so important to allow children to experience the "bumps and bruises" of life so that they can learn and mature from those experiences.
Working as a portrait studio photographer for the last seven years, I have seen a LOT of different parenting styles, and by far my favorites to work with are the parents that love on their kids and teach their kids to love others while allowing them (the children) to deal with the consequences of their actions.
The kids who are overly sheltered (and boy, is it easy to tell!) are a nightmare to deal with because, in a lot of circumstances, they are fearful, spoiled, or just plain uncooperative.
Anyways, I think you're on to something. But that's just my humble, childless opinion ;)

Deb said...

Love it, love it, love it. ♥