386. Protecting Children

There are all kinds of dangers in this world, and we don’t want our children to end up in the emergency room of the hospital, pictured on a
milk carton, or dead. We want them to live long, healthy, happy lives. And so we do what we can to make sure that’s what happens. Of course, everybody has a different idea of what is safe and healthy, and some parents don’t seem to care as much as others, but I think most of us do our best.
Sometimes, a parent seems overprotective. Exactly what that means varies quite a lot. Some parents encourage their children to take risks other parents wouldn’t allow. Diet, immunization shots, seatbelts, home selection, and various policies all reflect parents’ concern about their children’s safety and health. Sometimes children object to their parents’ protection policies, but parents are often more aware of children’s vulnerability and mortality than children are.
But at some point, children start owning their own lives enough to make their own decisions about what is safe and healthy. And they make mistakes. I did. Didn’t you? I’ve never broken a bone, but I’ve partied too late and had to pay the price the next day. Sometimes my inner parent sets limits for me, caring about my well-being, but sometimes my inner child takes over and has that sinful dessert anyway.
There are comical aspects to this issue, but they also vary from person to person. What one parent absolutely forbids may seem trivial – even silly – to another parent. One is thinking, I am not going to let my child go on that monstrous roller coaster, while another is thinking, roller coasters are fun for children; if we try to protect them from everything, they’ll never get to experience life.
I don’t think there’s a simple rule of thumb that tells us how and how much to protect our children. I’m all for living life and enjoying it. But even as an adult in charge of my own life, it’s hard for me to decide what to allow myself to do. There are things I really want to do that I know I shouldn’t and won’t. But there are also activities about which I agonize: should I? I really want to. But if I do…and so on.
The parent who seems, to you, to be overprotective may be someone who got badly hurt or saw someone else get badly hurt doing what you let your children do. I don’t know whether that parent is being overprotective or you’re being reckless. I don’t know whether the reason I’ve never broken a bone is that my parents and I were too cautious or just that we were appropriately cautious.
I don’t like labels, and so rather than call someone an “overprotective parent,” I prefer to examine policies one at a time. It means more thinking, but I’m into that anyway nowadays.

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