Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario and Saskatchewan. Here’s this week’s on how sheltering your children makes a world of difference for their futures.
Parents are naturally protective. We moms always carry band-aids in our purses in case of boo boos. We warn our children to steer clear of strangers, to look both ways before crossing the street, and to wash their hands carefully in public restrooms. We want our kids to stay safe when it comes to any kind of physical harm.
Yet when it comes to life and relationships, many of us do the exact opposite.
We believe that if you “shelter” your kids, you’re dooming them to lives of geekdom and ignorance.
Sheltering children is seen as something cruel, perpetrated by strange, nerdy parents on their equally nerdy offspring, because those parents are scared that their children will wander too far from the nest. Trying to maintain some innocence on behalf of kids, or even some teenagers, is thus seen as bad parenting.
I’ve never really understood this. After all, there’s a world of difference between preparing your children for life and exposing them to that life too early. What happens when you’ve got tomato seedlings and you want to plant them outside? You shelter them, planting them on a cloudy day, so that they aren’t exposed to the stress of the rough world all at once. Sheltering is necessary with plants, and I think it’s necessary with our children, too. If we don’t shelter, we’re just letting our society raise our kids. And would you trust our Kardashian culture to do that?
Kids deserve to be kids, and that means they deserve to live a life where they’re learning, exploring, and playing, without feeling like they have to act like adults.
They don’t need a boyfriend or a girlfriend. They don’t need to smoke or drink. They don’t need to understand sex jokes. But when we expose them to too much television; when we don’t monitor what we say in front of them; when we encourage them when they act in any way sexual; then we’re stealing their childhood. For an 8-year-old to be wanting a boyfriend because that’s what she sees on television is just plain stupid, and I don’t know why so many adults think it’s cute.
Yet we live in a world where innocent and naïve have become synonyms.
Of course being naïve, and not knowing how the world works, is bad. But being innocent is a good thing! It is simply wrong for a ten-year-old to be swearing, chasing down the opposite sex, or telling rude jokes. Let kids watch too many adult themed movies, though, and that is what they are going to believe is natural and normal.
It’s not only an issue of values, though. It’s also simply a practical issue of time. I wasted much of my childhood and a ton of my adulthood on TV. I only started writing and speaking (which is now my career) when I got rid of the box. If you want children who are creative, talented, and smart, then perhaps limiting all the junk that comes in through the media is a good first step. Give them time to read good books, to practice an instrument, to dream up new worlds or new games—that’s what summer is for! That’s ever so much better than watching a television show which is going to make them feel inferior if they’re not being pursued by the opposite sex.
We can’t shelter kids from everything stressful, but we can certainly try to preserve their childhood.
Monitor the television (or get rid of it). Spend more time as a family doing sports, reading books, or playing board games. Encourage them to simply play, especially outside if you have a safe area. Just don’t let the media influence your kids too much. That’s not preparing kids for life; it’s abdicating the most important job you will ever have. And it truly is a shame that so many parents think that’s okay.
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