Everyone will agree that we want to keep children safe. Despite all the other things that might divide us, we all want to protect our children. The trick is in agreeing on HOW we should protect children.
In Chapter 4 of Rae Pica’s book, What If Everybody Understood Child Development?: Straight Talk About Bettering Education and Children’s Lives (*affiliate link), she examines the swing in opinions of how children should be protected and what responsibilities the adults in their lives have. This swing has led to them being referred to as “The Bubble Wrap Generation”, as cited in the book.
Rae points out that overprotecting our kids not only wears out their parents and teachers, but it also perpetuates an anxious world-view that danger lurks around every corner. In reality, kids are much safer today than many are willing to admit. I know personally (and I’ve heard similar comments from other parents), I experience as much anxiety about others’ perception of my parental choices as I do about their actual safety. Particularly when it comes to my 11 year old….who could pass for being a few years younger. When he last asked if he could wait in the car while I ran a quick errand, I realized I wasn’t worried at all about his actual safety — he would be fine. But I worried that someone else would perceive he was in danger and then a real problem might arise.
It reminded me of the irony I discovered as I wrote, “Is There Danger in Play or More in its Absence?”, that in the effort to protect kids from rough and tumble play, we may be inadvertently contributing to a rise in other risks, such as anxiety. Paradoxically, one of the treatments for anxiety is very much like risky play. We seem to be chasing our own tails.
In Chapter 5, the question of what creates real safety, examines the “no touch” policies that some schools and agencies have created in an effort to protect kids from abuse. But as Rae asks, isn’t depriving children of the basic need of touch and connection child abuse as well?
The last chapter in this section may not seem, at first, to apply to the topic of protecting our children. For me, it illustrates an interesting contrast. From over-protection to putting girls at risk.
In Chapter 6 Rae examines the messages we’re sending young girls. An over-emphasis on appearance seems to have led to preschoolers and kindergartners to worry about being “too fat” and the appearance of eating disorders in girls as young as six.
The pervading message that a woman’s appearance is paramount to her worth can lead to a variety of challenges and misguided choices. And yet, it’s something society tends to perpetuate almost without noticing.
I remember one summer in college, as I was working as a river guide, that I had a sudden realization that my body was strong and functional. That my primary goal was not to be an ornament, but to DO something amazing with the amazing human body I’d been given.
It took me twenty years to have this epiphany.
It wasn’t that I hadn’t thought it before, but there was a definite moment that summer, coasting along on shimmering water, taking in the natural beauty all around me, that I finally really believed it.
I hope it doesn’t take most girls that long.
So what do we do for our daughters, to protect them from the objectification and hypersexualization that seems to pervade marketing and messages aimed at girls?
As a boy mom, I don’t have much direct experience to report on. (That’s the beauty of social media — I can’t wait to hear from you girl-mom experts!) But I have made some observations.
I’ve heard from friends who are frustrated that they can’t find their girls a pair of shorts with more than a two-inch inseam (without shopping in the boys’ section). A friend of mine recently told me about a simple swimsuit she picked up for her four year old daughter, thinking it was a simple swimsuit, only to notice the deep and provocative v cut in the front when her daughter put it on. “Who designs something like that for a little girl?” she asked. I’ve noticed others who would love to support their daughters’ love of dance as an art, but struggle to find a company or school that doesn’t promote costuming that leaves them feeling uneasy or use choreography that feels overtly provocative. And my own spin down the “Girls” toy aisle often leads to a quick exit and leaves me heaving a huge sigh of relief as a boy mom.
It sounds harsh to put it into words, but some marketing decisions seem to be guided more by pedophiles than by principles.
So what can we do?
As Rae noted in this chapter, avoiding an overemphasis on appearance is not the same as withholding any and every compliment. We all appreciate a kind word. But, as she says, watch the ratio. Make sure that comments about appearance do not outweigh all the other compliments and conversations you share.
I appreciated this perspective from a friend of mine, and mother to four strong little girls. The entire article is wonderful, but this excerpt highlights the importance of balance.
“We should tell them freely that they are beautiful, and we should also point out the things that make them even more beautiful—a kind smile to a stranger, a joyful heart, a burst of laughter, a new discovery. They should know that their character shines through and that those things—not just makeup and fashion—make them even more beautiful.”
We can help our girls (and our boys) to see beyond the superficial, in themselves and others. We can help them recognize commercials and marketing – both overt and subtle – for what they are. This takes time, conversations, and solid relationships.
But I think those are three things that really will keep our kids safest of all.
What were your thoughts about this section of What If Everybody Understood Child Development?: Straight Talk About Bettering Education and Children’s Lives (*affiliate link)? I’d love to hear what you think in the comments section. Have a question for the author? Let us know what’s on your mind, and we’ll use that to guide our Q&A with Rae Pica at the end of the read along.