Teaching Children to Risk

We all want our children to be safe and happy, but is there such a thing as too much safety, too much protection? Raising children is an exciting process, but sometimes it can seem a little too exciting, especially when you have to call the plumber to get your kid’s hand unstuck from the toilet! It is quite the balancing act, and it takes a lot of nerve and devotion on the part of parents.

How much should parents do to keep their children safe, and how much protection is too much? There is a fine line between mothering and smothering, between fathering and bothering. Over-protective parents, in their desire to save life, may suppress it instead, as they project their own fears onto their children. What they are really doing is protecting their own comfort.

Too many adults go through life afraid of all sorts of things – dogs, heights, meeting new people, going barefoot, riding horses, you name it – because of repeated fear messages and warnings given them by their own overprotective parents when they were small. Keep in mind, there are palpable dangers “out there,” and it is smart to be wary. The question is, do we really need to be “helicopter” (drone?) parents, always hovering over our children?

Teach your kids to be cautious when it’s necessary. But also teach them to risk, to live and laugh and test their own limits. Be there with a guiding hand and an encouraging word, and be ready to haul them away from real danger. Be mindful that you don’t squelch their spirits in your quest to keep them from harm, as you navigate this balancing act called parenting. It’s a matter of guiding children to what they can do, perhaps even more so than what they can’t do.

A study reported in the Journal of Child and Family Studies (Feb. 2013) found that parents being overly involved in their adult kids’ lives can actually do more harm than good. In fact, the adult, college-age students interviewed for the study reported their feelings of incompetence (because mom and dad went to bat for them over issues they could have, and probably should have, taken care of themselves) actually led to greater feelings of depression and dissatisfaction.

If you can teach your young child how to take calculated risks and really live life fully as children, you will be giving them a wonderful blessing that will serve them well as adults.