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Archive for April, 2011

I am teaching my children fear

Friday, April 8th, 2011

My week started off with quite a scare. Monday morning, outside of Baby #1’s elementary school, I was approached by a mother, clearly frazzled, on her way out of the principal’s office. She had been there telling him about an attempted kidnapping at a local park the day before. The potential victims were students of the school and her children had been playing at the park at the time the incident occurred. She recounted the terrifying story and the extensive police investigation that followed. She was on her way from the school to talk to a detective and was warning every parent she passed to beware.

For me, kidnapping is one of those topics that makes it harder to sleep at night. Part of this is probably a natural feeling for a parent, but I think it’s worse for me because I was raised by a mother who spent most of my childhood teaching me that most everyone was out to get me. In fact, to this day, she reinforces how terrified I should be to do everything and go anywhere. She is the kind of person who forwards endless e-mails about new ways that killers will trick you at gas stations, in mall parking lots and at the supermarket. Just this morning, while I was on the phone with her, a DWP employee rang my doorbell to have me unlock my gate. She made me call her back as soon as he was gone because, according to her, impersonating DWP employees is a new tactic used by predators. Because of this upbringing, I have to work very hard not to be afraid all the time. I have made a very conscious and concentrated effort not to instill the same panic in my children. Therefore, I find it easier to simply avoid the park because it is impossible for me to be 100% protective of two people who scatter in opposite directions, hide in tunnels and don’t respond when I call their names without scaring them with stories of the horrible things that can happen to children happily swinging. Instead, I convinced Hubby #1 that we needed a swing-set that takes up our entire backyard in order to give our children all the swinging, climbing and sliding satisfaction of a park in an environment where I can sit back and read a magazine.

Even though we don’t go to the park, the news still sent terror through me – maybe my mother is right?!? – and I decided that, perhaps, it was time to instill a little fear in my kids. Baby #2, who just celebrated his third birthday, was the only one home at the time, and so I began with him.

“What would you do if you were at the park and a man you didn’t know asked you if you’d like to come to his car and see his sleeping dog?” I asked, using the lure the local kidnapper had supposedly used. “Would you go with him?”
“Yes!” Baby #2 answered eagerly.
“NO!!” I countered and then, I am ashamed to admit, I told him that the person was going to take him away from me and never give me back.
Baby #2 responded by asking me about the sleeping conditions with his new family.
LESSON #1 – FAILURE

That afternoon, I presented the same scenario to six-year old Baby #1.
She too was willing to go to the car to check out the sleeping dog and only encountered a problem with the fact that the kidnapper might not have a 5-point harness seat for her to ride in.
“The seat doesn’t matter!” I exclaimed. “They are NEVER going to give you back to me. You’ve got bigger problems than the seat!!”
LESSON #2 – FAILURE

I have spent the rest of the week, convincing my children that there are people out to get them. I am ashamed that I have done it, but at the same time, feel a sense of satisfaction that now Baby #2 creates schemes potential predators might use, always ending in him saying, “NO!”

“Mommy, if I’m playing at school and someone I don’t know comes up and asks me if I want to see their dog throw-up, I say NO,” he proudly tells me.
“YES!” I cheer, thrilled that the dangers of the world are sinking in. I decide to let go the fact that even if someone he knows offers him the chance to see dog vomit that he should probably pass.

Then, this morning, I learned that the whole kidnapping threat was false. Some accounts are saying that the kids got it wrong – others are implying that they flat out made it up. I am now torn between admitting to my children that the world is a little safer than I have spent the past five days leading them to believe and not mentioning that it didn’t happen and using the incident as a good excuse to have taught them a lesson they should have already known. And speaking of teaching lessons, should I jump on this new development and move right into the perils of crying wolf?

At some point (and I have perhaps reached that point), all this lesson teaching becomes just as much work as trying to watch two kids at the park! I think, instead, I am going to spend the weekend sitting in the backyard reading a magazine and letting them believe that there are predators with ill dogs lurking under every public slide. As my mother loves to say, “A little fear is what keeps you safe.”