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Overprotective Parents

Air Date: 06/14/11 Cheryl can be reached at 775-331-6723 or at cheryl.erwin@sbcglobal.net    There's a phrase I hear kids using a lot these days, usually with deep sighs and rolling eyes. "My mom is so overprotective," a boy told me the other day. "She won't let me do anything by myself!" His mother bristled a bit but said only, "I worry about him. It's such a dangerous world and I don't want anything to happen to him. It's my job to keep him safe-isn't it?"             It's a common question, especially now when even in our own community the headlines tell daily stories of loss and fear. Parents must be vigilant, for good reason, and even riding a bike to school, something kids of my generation took for granted, can be fraught with peril, everything from speeding SUVs to stranger-danger.               I remember the afternoon my son, then about 9 years old, called me at work to ask if he and his two best friends could ride their bikes to the grocery store. The store was about a mile and a half away and required traveling on a fairly busy street-and believe it or not, this was before the advent of cell phones. He would be out of reach while he was riding. My immediate reaction was to say no-but then I remembered how independent I was at that age and how proud I'd felt when I had an adventure on my own. So I took a deep breath and said yes-as long as he followed some basic rules. We talked about the route, about wearing a helmet, and how to walk his bike across busy intersections. I told him to take quarters from the change dish so he could call me from the store, and I asked him to call me again when he got home. And I'll admit that I didn't get much productive work done that afternoon. But he and his friends had a great time. He called me from home, sweaty and tired, and said it was a lot farther than he'd thought. But I could hear the pride and satisfaction in his voice, and I was glad I'd let him try it. Was it risky to let a boy ride so far on his bike? Of course. And if something had happened, I'd never have forgiven myself. But truth is, life is inherently risky and part of raising a child is equipping that child with the skills, good judgment, and confidence to go out and make good decisions in a dangerous world. Like it or not, we will not always be around to protect our children from harm. In the years since that bike ride, my son, now 27, has become an accomplished scuba diver and has explored Europe, Central America, Thailand, and Trinidad and Tobago without his mommy's help. I still worry about him; I always will. But I'm glad he has the courage and confidence to venture into the world and take good care of himself while doing so. When children are little, they depend on us to make choices for them and to protect them from harm. As they grow up, however, they need the opportunity to stretch their wings, to make decisions on their own, and to learn how to take care of themselves. There's a hidden message in overprotecting children: that is, "you can't do this yourself-you need me to take care of you." Overprotected children sometimes become anxious, dependent adults. Confidence, like responsibility, only grows where it is given room and opportunity, and skills must be actively taught. What does your child need to know to take care of him or herself, to make good decisions in a risky world? I'm talking about far more than avoiding strangers. If you want to raise a capable, resourceful, confident child, you must make room for him to practice-and that means loosening your grip enough for him to move away from you. Research tells us that self-esteem and confidence come from having skills, so teaching a child those skills is one of the best ways to both protect him and to equip him to thrive in a challenging world. Age, by the way, is not the best indicator of whether a child is ready for responsibility or not. Instead, know your child well enough to gauge his maturity and ability to handle a challenge. If either you or he is uncomfortable with a situation, he's not ready. You can also do things with your child so he learns the skills to handle them with your support. There's no way to avoid worry, though. I went to Singapore a few years ago to teach a workshop for early childhood educators. I went alone; I'd never been to southeast Asia and I was a bit nervous-but I had a marvelous time. Turns out my mom-who is 82-was even more nervous than I was. "Mom," I said when I got home, "I'm 52 years old." "I know," she replied, "but you're still my little girl." Good grief. I suppose the cycle never ends. Risk is a part of life, and we and our children will handle it much better if we take the time to prepare for it. Teach your children skills, set age-appropriate limits-and then let go and let them fly. For KUNR, this is Cheryl Erwin.