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Hovering Parents

By Dr. Cathleen McGreal

How can I keep my child safe without being over-protective?

When our daughter Kaiti announced that she was going to walk the Camino de Santiago, we were excited yet apprehensive (The Way [2010] is a movie about this pilgrimage). No traveling companions could be found, so she completed the pilgrimage alone. Parents never outgrow concerns for their children’s safety, although eventually they must relinquish control.

The balance changes over time. For infants, safety depends on the parents, who put them on their backs to sleep and “babyproof” the house. But as children begin exploring the world, they push the boundaries of safety. Learning to walk leads to skinned knees, but it’s a necessary step toward autonomy. As children grow, parents need to reassess the balance that fosters independence but also enhances safety. Providing our reasoning models the decision-making process itself.

Be cautious, not overprotective. A modern translation of a Proverbs verse is, “The wise are cautious and avoid danger; fools plunge ahead with reckless confidence.” (Prv 14:16) The level of autonomy that is appropriate is dependent on the child’s age and maturity, as well as on the context. Allowing a 12-year-old to stay at home alone after school is often reasonable, but allowing an 8-year-old to do the same would be inappropriate, and in some states illegal.

The May 1905 issue of Ladies Home Journal noted, “Statistics say that more than one-half of the children born into the world die before reaching maturity.” Now, with the advent of antibiotics, vaccinations and medical technology, our expectation is that every child will reach adulthood. Turn to prayer when concerns about safety grow overwhelming; Pray Joshua 1:9