Dad: Basics of Protecting Our Children, Part 1

Introduction: My Background with Danger

Photo by Will Francis on Unsplash

I grew up thinking the world was pretty safe.  I didn't practice much situational awareness and was honestly  sheltered from a great deal of evil, manipulation and violence (except for TV shows). My wife grew up very differently.  I grew up white and middle class, in a middle class neighborhood of mostly white folks.  She grew up Mexican-American in a situation closer to working poor.  So mundane things, like walking from the car to the restaurant or walking our dog around the block is something we see very differently. She has much more situational awareness and experience with danger.  She had to show up as a provider for her younger siblings when she was young.  I simply annoyed my little brother and sister, not thinking too much about protecting them, although my sister will tell you I defended her from a punky kid on the bus ride home from elementary school one day.  Honestly, I have learned so much and woken up from thinking that the world is mostly safe because I married her.  I am now in the habit of trying to listen to and keep her story in mind when we respond differently to everything from sleepover invitations to the boys wanting to ride bikes in our neighborhood without our supervision.  I need my wife, in part, so that I don't keep living so naively. Being married to someone different that me helps me to grow.  I encourage you to do the same as you think about friends, your partner, or spouse.  He/she is in your life to help you grow.

Photo by Rayner Simpson on Unsplash

Situational Awareness

To protect our family, we must consistently look and listen to our surroundings. We must factor in real dangers, like more folks are texting and driving than ever.  I called my insurance agent because my son will soon have a learner's permit for driving.  The agent said 92% of teens have a significant accident in the first 5 years of driving.  Whoa! In fact, explicitly teaching and modeling situational awareness for our children to do this same thing will bless them immensely in their adult life it could save their lives.  As I wrote in a previous post, we guys can be very focused on the one task we are into, and filter out distractions when we are locked in.  This is a disadvantage if we are not in the habit of practicing situational awareness. We can socialize at the beach or church or elsewhere, and the children can disappear without us knowing.  Kids wander. So our attention needs to be focused.  And we need to explain to kids why we are asking them to stay in eyesight of us (or whatever the guideline is).

Anticipation of Danger

I don't know about you, but I need to train myself to look for possibilities of danger. I don't want to live in a  paranoid state, but I do want to be shrewd, and I need to support my wife to raise boys who are not white. My sons need to be aware the world isn't perfectly safe, and lots of distracted drivers, bigots, and punks are out there.  I want to avoid naivete and foster shrewdness.  It is a skill I need to grow in, to be sure, and I have, but still have to remember things are not the same as when I was riding my ten-speed in the neighborhood as a 13-year-old.

Pre-emptive, Proactive, and Prepared

I've never seen myself as a super manly man, never been very physically strong or able to fight, so this category is awkward for me, but I my life tells me it's simply necessary.  The best defense is a great offense, as they say.

Sure there will be some minor and more major danger we can't prevent, but I think it's really important (especially for those of us who grew up with less awareness of danger) to recognize that there are more ways to get hurt physically, emotionally, and mentally than ever before.  So we must prepare for that danger with a strong, proactive plan for our physical, emotional, and mental selves.

teen boy stands on a paddleboard in the water
Photo by Michael Lovett

To be proactive physically
, keep your head on a swivel.  Look around, avoid going out at night. Just because kids ask to go somewhere or do something does NOT entitle them to go there. If our kids ride bikes or hang out in the neighborhood they need to know when to return, keep their phone ringer on if they have one, and they we should enable Find My Phone or similar apps.  I also think with movies, video games and US culture being the way it is, there is a great chance for our kids to be exhausted by screens and processed food. Just because there is a 12-pack of soda in the fridge doesn't mean boys should drink it all.  Just because there are several seasons of Star Wars Clone Wars doesn't entitle them to binge all the seasons of that show this week.  On the upside fitness trackers and new sports like Spikeball can make physical movement and games lots of fun.  My son got a 1988 road bike from my uncle this fall and he is thrilled. It´s a perfect pandemic hobby, as is paddleboarding.  We bought these entry level boards from Wowsea this fall and they were right on time for family time when the pandemic cancels your vacation plans.  As we drove to work our muscles on our new boards, we talked in the car, and experienced lots of outdoor joy as we broke them in several times this fall.

To encourage emotional proactive protection, we have to understand that emotions, thinking and movement are all connected.  That's why emotions are called e-motions:  They come as a result of how we operate in the world.  To protect our children emotionally we must keep our kids moving, get them outside often, and ensure a high amount of laughter, and offer affection even to our teens, in ways they prefer.  Screens and devices should take at least an hour break per day, and go to sleep long before us, as Andy Crouch advises in the Tech-Wise Family. Getting away from screens helps.  Movement and family walks help.  Routines, including cooking, eating, and cleaning up dinner together, help.  In our family we have our best laughs after dinner and sometimes during dinner.  We have chorelists so that everyone knows what to do on which days.  This eliminates arguments.  Structure really helps.  Speaking of structure, habits of listening well are essential to emotional protection.  Listening promotes a sense of importance in the speaker. No better way to love and esteem our children than to listen to all their stories. I have many posts on this blog about listening (search in the upper right corner of this page).  

Mentally, I think there is no better place to start than reading and gathering wisdom and learning how to have a conversation. For conversation, remove all devices from the dinner table, and let eating time be a time of connection and conversation, not just eating.  Teach children to answer questions and build their skills up as time goes on to consider more deep questions.  On the reading side,  the proverbs are a great book of the Bible to begin with kids.  You could discuss a sentence a day during dinner or the drive to school or after dinner.  If we intentionally support it, it will grow in our kids.  Bedtime stories, conversations at bedtime, and routines also help our brains.  With the rise of screens, we need to ensure mental growth is protected, and that our small children feel close to us as we read stories and books in physical form, not just digital.  The affection and mental stimulation are huge.  Again, routine serves us well.  We can build new habits and our kids will look forward to reading and conversations.  If the reading isn't going well, tweak the genre kind of literature (magazines or short stories or comics).  If the conversations aren't going well you could use board games or a box of questions like Tabletopics or generate your own questions using a book like If..Questions for the Game of Life.  All of this mental work in talking and reading and listening and speaking helps protect our children from laziness and mental flabbiness.  It prepares them to enter the world of adults.  This is especially important, in my opinion if we are raising children of color.  They need to know how to have a quick answer, to understand what might be implied, and to understand why something might be sarcastic and not exactly as it appears or sounds.  This is learned, in part, at the dinner table and in conversations in the car, not to mention in walks. Family talks or devotionals or one on one talks are helpful too.  All of this protects our children and prepares them for dangerous ideas, hucksters, scam artists, manipulators and the insincere.  Where else would we expect them to learn this?  It is not protecting our children to let life burn them then teach them a lesson.  That will happen, of course, but we need to avoid laziness in our parenting and be proactive in mentally preparing our children to think. 

Let's consider this more later this week in Part 2: Responding to Different Types of Danger

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