What is this world coming to? How do we keep our children out of harm's way? These were some of the sentiments expressed in many social media posts following the tragedy at the Boston Marathon last week. And recently, I cautioned a young boy about skateboarding without a helmet. His response, "You're just like my mom, moms worry too much."
Do today's parents worry more than our parents did simply because the list of concerns has grown over time? Could it be that we are now more aware of the dangers and "darkness" that have always existed?
It seems that in times past, parents had a greater sense of trust simply because they didn't think about all that could or might happen. The media coverage was not as vast, so many people might have been unaware of the potential dangers. When I was a child, we were even allowed to swim in the ocean unattended. When I questioned my mom about this in recent years, she responded, "I have no idea what we were thinking back then. I guess we just trusted you'd all be fine." By the grace of God, we were.
How do we keep our children safe in today's world without making them more fearful? We have to foster an open line of communication with plenty of opportunities for children to share their own thoughts and feelings each day. While some things are non-negotiable, we do have to ask more open-ended and meaningful questions. How was school today, we might ask a child. But how often do we inquire, how are you today? Is there anything that you are curious about? Did anything happen today that made you super happy or sad or even mad?
It is also important to find out how our children view the world. What images have they seen on television? How do they feel about this planet we call home? Is it a scary place filled with violence and injustices? Is it a frivolous place where the answer is always yes and there are no consequences for poor choices? Or, is it a world filled with both positive and negative forces, light and darkness—where each person has the capacity to choose what's right?
We are molded and guided by our experiences and by the values, ideas and principles of the people closest to us. The more fear-based encounters we have and fear-based messages we receive, the more fearful we become. How do we then guide our children in living fully and fearlessly, without malice to others?
By the age of seven, most children are able to make decisions based on their inner conscience. Still, they have to learn how to tune in and listen to that innermost voice. This is key...recognizing that our children can be taught how to evaluate their choices and decisions as opposed to constantly looking for outside approval. We can't just say, treat others the way you want to be treated. That message doesn't seem to be getting through by itself. Hurting children grow into hurting teens and hurting adults. Hurting people tend to hurt others. They want others to feel the pain that they are experiencing.
The "golden rule" of doing unto others must be followed up with other messages: If you're hurting, it's okay to ask for help; Play fair, but don't accept labels that threaten to dim your light; Be kind to others and to yourself; Express yourself without harm to another; When someone says "no" or "stop", respect their words; If something doesn't feel right, it isn't. And most important, WE ALL MATTER. Every life is precious and valuable.