Jewish World Review Sept. 27, 2009 / 9 Tishrei 5770
What makes our kids truly safe
By Betsy Hart
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | The story of the return of kidnapping victim Jaycee Dugard after 18 years couldn't have been more bizarre. The almost two-decades-long ordeal of Dugard's parents, not just Jaycee herself, must have been excruciating.
But once again a high-profile kidnapping case has set parents on edge by playing to our worst fears.
Before parents start locking up their kids, they really should pay attention to the statistics. According to federal crime statistics, there are some 800,000 reports of missing or abducted kids each year. But it turns out that in a typical year only about 115 children are taken by strangers. Tragically these children are rarely returned.
The majority of the 800,000 are runaways, temporarily lost, abducted by family or someone the child knows well. While frightening for all concerned, in such cases the child most often returns or is returned safely.
And yet, today parents seem to live in terror of taking their eyes off their child. Even in their own backyard.
It's easy to blame the media for hyping the so rare but sensational story of stranger abduction. But it seems to me there's a reason we parents buy into it and so many of the other "safety first" messages that bombard us. It's a way we can feel good about making value judgments in a world that no longer really values judgment.
We parents inherently ache to make judgments that protect our kids. But open-mindedness is the ultimate value in our culture, so true "value judgments" are often out. Instead, at the right times we'll lecture our children about drugs and alcohol and seatbelts and cigarettes and bicycle helmets and stay away from strangers. And that's all good.
But moral values? We parents seem so reticent today to impart bold "right and wrong" messages to our kids. Even on a secular level. The parenting books instruct us to "separate the bad behavior from the child" and to build up a child's self-esteem no matter what he does. To tell a child to feel ashamed of himself because, for instance, he behaved selfishly or lied? There is no room for that in the lexicon of most parenting experts today.
And transcendent values is where we get really nervous. Too many of us would make our children recycle, but we wouldn't dare make them go to church or synagogue with us.
At one of my older children's back-to-school night programs this year, I heard a lot about the importance of helping kids "make healthy choices." Particularly when it came to drugs and alcohol. It's all in the framework of some things clearly working better than others.
I suppose it's no accident that I didn't hear one word about "making good moral choices." And I think that's a tragedy. Very often bad choices don't have obviously, or immediately, bad consequences. And very often "healthy" choices don't have immediately obvious or beneficial consequences.
So then what?
The culture increasingly trains us parents to stay away from what makes our kids truly safe: going after our children's hearts and consciences. Teaching them right from wrong at the most basic levels. Encouraging them to make sound moral judgments about themselves and their world. Even when, especially when, the consequences aren't obvious in the moment.
How ironic that we parents feel good about keeping our children away from strangers and in the backyard where they are "safe." Because it seems to me that by not facing up to what our kids really need to be protected in this world, we leave them more vulnerable to it after all.s
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