Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Case for Paranoid Parenting

My dad once said, "If everyone in the world were me, a three-year-old girl could wander out of her house onto a city street at three a.m. and she would be picked up and safely delivered home." He's right. It's true. Same thing if everyone were me. Or you, right? So where the hell are these other people coming from? -- the ones who would hurt a little girl? Say it out loud: There are people out there who would actually hurt a little girl. Hard to digest, isn't it? Think that over for a second while looking at this picture:

Okay, ready?

If it is not us, doing this horrible stuff, who is it? Out of a hundred people, how many of them would harm this little wayward angel? Out of a crowd of thousands? Are there people who are that evil in the picture above? Are they in your building or school or next to you in the cubicle cluster at work?

I'm assuming that nobody reading this would ever hurt our hypothetical lost waif. If I am right about all this, what are we all so worried about? Why wouldn't we let our daughters roam city streets at night?

I'm also assuming a minute portion of the people in the entire world would commit atrocities against a child. That has to be true, right? Well, if it is, maybe we are being held hostage by our imaginations.

But, then, there are the news stories of kids being dragged away; of unspeakable pedophilic rapes; of molestation; of mutilations; of predators of all kinds targeting children; of lonely, deluded people who would steal your baby for their own.

More about my dad: he will not go in the ocean. He saw Jaws and that was that. When my uncle said to him, "Do you know what the odds are of a shark attack? Like, 234 million to one," my dad thought for a minute and responded: "I don't like the odds." Further wisdom from a wise man with dry feet and, to this day, both of them.

Parents and parents of the future: watch your kids and watch everything around them. Don't make you kids stay out of the water, but keep a relentless eye on the horizon for fins. I mean this literally and metaphorically. For heaven's sake, don't let them know you're looking, but keep an eye out, quietly, and with a smile on your face. Don't enjoy yourself at crowded amusement parks: watch. (Yes, I am literally asking parents to sacrifice fun in an amusement park -- at least until they get safely clicked into the rollercoasters.) Be paranoid. Go home exhausted from worry, but with as many kids in the back seat as you showed up with. But don't show the kids your exhaustion. Be paranoid without making them paranoid. Bear the burden while showing no sign of it. You can do it, because your love is (or will be) that big. Soon enough, they will be able to take care of themselves and you can relax. Not now, though. Not while they're little.

And prepare them. Do they know the tricks the sickos of the world might use against them? Do they know how to say "no" to a grown-up? Do know that no one has a right to touch them in certain ways?

I once said to my son, when he was four, "What would you do if someone pulled up in a car and said 'Your mom and dad sent me to get you'?" He said, with a chubby little smile: "Go with them!" What would your kid say?

Prepare them by making them ready, not by making them scared. I know, I know, but you have to figure it out.

Trust no one. I worked for years with a guy who was eventually convicted of possessing and trafficking child pornography. I ate lunch with him, told jokes with him and even invited him to parties over the years. But, even in total ignorance to his depraved hobby, at no time would I ever have trusted him for five minutes in a room with my boys. Furthermore, I wouldn't trust you and you shouldn't trust me and neither one of us should be offended by that.

Truth is, we're not likely to ever see these maniacs, but they are out there -- maybe even next to you right now. Trust no one, stay on high alert with your little ones, but, and this is important, know when to let go. Someday, disengage, confident you made them ready, trusting them to help themselves. Then you can rest and it will be much deserved.

(When you don't disengage, you become a "helicopter parent." For my attempt at understanding these parents, you might want to read a previous post of mine: "Why Your Dad is Like Othello.")

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