Air Date: 06/21/11 Cheryl can be reached at 775-331-6723 or at email@example.com One of the things I love about working with kids is that I have an excuse to get out of my office. Children-especially boys-often connect better and talk more freely when they're in motion, and because my office is near the river we often do "walking therapy." We sit by the river and watch the ducks and kayakers. One teenager and I watched a cormorant dive beneath the surface and emerge with a glistening trout. I've helped kids identify flowers and birds and bugs-and noticed that for some, walking two blocks appears to exceed their physical fitness. Not long ago, though, a father told me that he was not comfortable with the idea of his son walking with me to the river. He told me that certainly no other parents could be comfortable with the idea. When I told him he was the first parent to object he was stunned-and later told me it might be okay if I agreed to take my cell phone and call him every ten minutes. By the way, the reason his son is seeing a therapist? Anxiety. And in fact, anxiety is the single most common reason children and teenagers wind up in a counselor's office. I know children who are not allowed to walk to school. I know kids who never get to ride their bikes because they're not allowed to play in the front yard. I know kids who aren't allowed to play in the back yard, either, or where anyone might see them. They can't cook because they might get burned or cut, and they can't go to a birthday party without mom or dad in attendance. Spending the night at a friend's house is out of the question. It should come as no surprise that many of these children are anxious, bored, addicted to TV and video games, insecure, and angry. They also have a tendency to be clinically overweight and out of shape-and research tells us that when kids gain too much weight early in life they will struggle with medical problems later on. Parents protect their children for a very good reason: they love them and it's dangerous out there. Everyone knows about Elizabeth Smart and Jaycee Dugard, about stranger-danger and accidents. But what many parents don't think through is that confidence, good judgment, and the ability to assess risk are qualities that develop only with practice and experience. You can keep your child in the living room for a while-but what happens when she leaves your care and has no real-world training in how to take care of herself? There's something else worth noting, too. The world can be risky-no question. But it can also be breathtakingly beautiful, a place of serenity and color and energy and life. Our children need to learn to be mindful, to be connected to the world around them. They need to learn how to exercise good judgment and problem-solving skills and they will have a much richer and healthier life if they can move, explore, and nurture their creativity. They need to be physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually healthy-and they won't know how to do that if they never leave the house or experience life without a parent hovering nearby. Yes, keeping your child safe is your job. It's your number-one job. But raising your child to be a healthy, independent, curious adult is also your job. Consider Somerville, Massachusetts, which has reshaped its parks, its school nutrition, and its community in order to combat childhood obesity and to encourage kids and families to get outside and move. So here are some suggestions. Consider the life you want your child to have as an adult. Do you want him or her to be confident, optimistic, and healthy? Then you need to begin now rather than later. Self-reliance depends on your child's age and maturity, of course-but think about the things she does well. Now think about the things you want her to know before she leaves your care. You can begin by doing things with her. Go for walks; talk about the risks, of course, like crossing streets and being alert, but take time to enjoy the pleasures, too, like the flowers and trees, and the ability to run. Go throw rocks into the river, or float together downstream on a raft. Plant something in the backyard. In fact, if you plant a garden together, your child will have a greater chance of learning to love veggies-and yes, she'll get dirty. It's OK; dirt comes off. Recognize that your beloved child needs to know how to take care of himself even when you're not there-and that worrying isn't healthy for anyone. If you can't let go, your child will have to fight you for his independence later, and that isn't fun for anyone. Most important, learn to keep yourself healthy so that you can take a deep breath, teach your child skills, and then let go and let him learn to love life and the world around him. None of us gets a guarantee in life: it's one of the most difficult parts of being human. But our kids can learn to handle life if we'll give them opportunities to try. For KUNR, this is Cheryl Erwin.