The concept of protecting children changes as children go through the four stages of development. The kind of protection that children need as infants is very different from what they need as teens. So parents and adult caregivers must always be tracking where children are on the “risk scale” and monitoring them based on these factors.
Boundaries Provide Safety and Protection
One of the most important things that parents and adult caregivers can do to protect children is teach them how to have boundaries. Even tiny infants recognize when someone disregards their boundaries. Therapists who work with infants are able to recognize when they use their arms and legs to set boundaries. I’ve seen videos of William Emerson, a pre- and perinatal psychologist, interacting with infants in ways that illustrate their ability to set boundaries. So children are always attempting to set boundaries with those they come in contact with.
The challenge for adult caregivers is to know when to surrender some of their control and boundaries in ways that gradually allow children to become responsible for their own safety. As they individuate, children naturally wish to take charge of as much of their lives as possible.
Building boundaries between your Self and the Self of others involves several social skills, and also a set of rules about how people interact with each other. Here are some of the most critical:
- People do not own or belong to each other.
- People must ask permission before they can cross over each other’s physical and psychological boundary lines.
- “Response-ability” is determined by “who owns the problem.”
Avoiding Rescues to Allow “Learning”
Most parents would like to prevent their children from suffering. Some say things like, “I don’t want my child to have to experience XYZ like I did!” And so they create an artificial world that prevents them from taking life’s natural falls. This rescues children from learning the consequences of their choices, and prevents them from learning from their experiences.
Most sadly, these overly protected children do not learn cause-and-effect thinking. This makes it difficult to navigate their way safely through life. Without learning “if I do X, then Y will happen,” they lack discernment and are easy prey for con artists and other predatory types.
Walking A Fine Line
Protecting children requires that adults walk a fine line between being overly protective/overly permissive. This fine line also contains another dilemma: how much to warn children about “bad people/things” and how much to let them learn about it in their own timing. The older that children get, the more that parents find themselves sounding like paranoid “doomsday’s” who see evil lurking around every bend.
One way to survive this state is to have other parents & families that you can talk with about these concerns. Today’s parents truly recognize that today’s spectrum of harm is much wider and deeper than it was 20 years ago. Having community support can make the difference for truly concerned parents. Look for this kind of support from the parents’ of your children’s friends, sports buddies and interest groups or clubs.