Protecting Without Over Protecting: Teaching Your Child to Make Wise Decisions
Sometimes, as parents, we care so very deeply for our children that we want to keep them safe from all things that could in any way injure them, hurt them, or even make them sad. In the process of working toward keeping them safe, sometimes we tend to overprotect to the point of unintentional emotional and social harm. How can we balance protection from the world and all the evil in it, and still allow them to be independent and confident young people who can discern truth and make good choices in friends and activities?
That’s what we will be talking about today. How to protect your children from influences you believe to be harmful while teaching them to make good choices on their own as they grow up.
First, we have to revisit those three key points that are essential to raising up a child to be well-behaved and content. These are the three things every child needs to know.
1. They are loved.
2. They understand you know what is best for them.
3. They know you will use your authority to be sure what’s best for them is done.
In the last session, we talked about teaching your child to look outside of themselves and to start to make determinations about the world around them. Then, to take those determinations and help them recognize their own good and bad behavior.
When we are teaching them about recognizing behaviors, we are teaching them to make judgments. Some may say we aren’t supposed to judge – but really that isn’t true. We make judgments every day about numerous things. For example, you may judge this M4M article to be good or bad! By making a determination about what you think about this, you are making a judgment. What we are not able to judge is someone’s eternal life. That is not for us to judge, but for God. But, we CAN judge what is right and what is wrong. This is how we make decisions about truth and what decisions are good or bad for us and our children.
As they get older, it is important to continue to talk about things you see that are inspiring and things that are unacceptable. For instance, if you see another young person performing an act of service, treating another person with compassion or showing respect to an elder, mention it and praise those actions to your child.
If you believe it is unacceptable for a young man to wear his pants so baggy they can’t stay on his hips, mention that too, and talk to them about what message that gives others. It is wise also, imv, to be sure to say things like “Isn’t that sad for him” rather than putting the person down personally. Since we don’t know the person, we want to show compassion in our words towards others even if we are at the same time using what we see as a lesson. We want to make sure the child understands the difference between making a judgment about an action or deed rather than about a person.
When we are talking about protecting your children, there are two aspects of protection to consider. One would be physical and the other would be spiritual or emotional. There are a lot of articles and books written that talk about physical safety, so we won’t go into too much of that right now. But there are a few things that would be wise to consider in this area.
Think about our goal of being a mature parent. Remember the definition of “maturity” being: understanding how our present decisions will affect our distant future and acting on that knowledge in a responsible way. As a parent, teaching your child to become a mature person is a huge part of your job. Being mature in your own decisions in relation to your children is extremely important in accomplishing this goal.
When we consider maturity, we have to always think about precedents. What precedent are we setting with each rule or guideline we give. A precedent is going to determine how future decisions will be made by looking back at how things were done in the past. This is especially true when you consider you will likely have more than one child!
Your child will quickly hone in on an inconsistent decision in relation to a precedent set, and you will have to have a good answer to justify making rules or judgments that are contrary to it. So, when you make a decision, especially to allow them to do something, you should think through what this will mean in the future.
So, with that in mind… would you send your six year old child to the park alone to play on the playground? Probably not. It is likely if I asked, “why not?”, you would say because anyone could be in the park. You have no way of knowing who is there and what might go on when you are not present.
What if I asked you if it would be ok as long as you knew there were other mothers there? Maybe one that you knew briefly in high school will be there? Would you feel comfortable enough then to allow your child to go to the park without you there under those circumstances?
What about if I said there would be fathers there instead? What about mothers who have their boyfriends along? There are many scenarios where judgements about what is safe and what is not will need to be made and you are the mom! How will you make these decisions and what precedents will you set?
About Overnights at Friend’s Houses
So, let’s move this scenario to a home. Your child has been asked to spend the night at a friend’s house. You have never spoken to the mom before, or maybe have just briefly. You don’t know anything about the family, but you have no indication there would be anything to be concerned about. They attend church and seem to be nice and friendly. Do you let your child go? What about if they don’t attend church?
Have you thought about whether there is pornography in the home? What about loaded weapons? What kind of language is used in the home? Alcohol? Tobacco? Or other drugs? What movies might be on the TV while your child is there?
This is a judgment you will have to make, but I want to let you know how and why I made the decisions I did about my children’s physical and spiritual safety.
One of my daughters was asked to spend the night with a friend when she was in elementary school. I realized this was the first of MANY times this question would come up with her and my many children to come. I would be setting a precedent with this decision.
I thought about the children to come. What kind of situations would be created in the future for not only this child, but her siblings? What do I really know about the family she would be staying with this time? What about next time… and every time after that? After thought and prayer, I decided for now, I was not going to start a precedent of my children spending the night at friend’s houses.
I told her she would not be allowed to spend the night, but I might allow her to go for the evening and spend time with friends since I knew the mother from high school and church and trusted her. But, we were not close friends and I didn’t know her husband or older children at all. First, I would need to have a phone conversation with the mom to be sure of the plans.
While on the phone with the mother, I let her know that my daughter would be happy to spend some time with hers, but spending the night was not something we were going to have our children involved in most of the time. I asked who else would be there as far as adults and older children were concerned, and what the plans were for the evening. The mom told me no one else had asked her these things and she was at first taken back.
I explained that I did not want to set a precedent that my child spend nights in other homes and it had nothing at all to do with her or her family personally. The next time someone asked, it might be a family I have never met at all. Then I would have to say no, which would end up offending the friend and their parents. In order to keep my children safe, I determined that spending the night was not going to be a regular or common place thing at all. In fact, generally they do not spend the night at friend’s houses. With this being the rule and precedent, whenever I had to speak to a mom about it, I could just say that was a general rule and had nothing to do with them personally at all.
After I explained this to the mother, she appreciated my position and said she thought it was good that I was so careful with the safety of my children.
Another scenario that happened was with my other daughter. She was invited to an overnight birthday party when she was in early elementary school. I had never met the family or the parents of this friend and did not want to allow her to go over to the house with no knowledge whatsoever of who would be there. I also didn’t want my child to miss out on a fun party with her friends from school. So, I called the mom and asked if it would be ok if I came and stayed for a while during the party. After the party, my daughter would be going home, but appreciated that she was invited to stay. The mom said that was fine.
When we arrived, there was a man sitting at the far end of the living room. I sat down and watched as mom after mom came into the house, introduced themselves to the mother of the birthday girl (meaning they have never met her before), and walked out the door leaving their child in the home of a total stranger to spend the night with a man they didn’t know sitting right there in front of them. Later, I found out this man was the mom’s boyfriend. He stayed in the living room during the party, and so did I. There was a lot of activity, so I didn’t have any significant conversation with the man.
As I left with my daughter, he was still there. I couldn’t get out of my mind that these moms seemed really clueless to me. Who was this man? How do they know what he would do? Did they even think about the fact that they just dropped off their precious child into a home without any safeguards? I was flabbergasted at this. But, these were loving, church-going, and imv, naive parents and in their minds were just letting their little girl have a fun overnight party with their friend. Was this safe though?
In these circumstances, overprotection would have been to not allow them to participate at all in the fun with their friends. Under protection would have been to let them spend the night with no boundaries as to the home or people with whom they would be staying. To allow them to participate in a way that I believed was safe was the balance I believe worked well.
Again, these are judgments you have to make as a parent, but remember that when you set a precedent, you will have to stick with it in future decisions, or you will have to admit making a mistake and change it later. By setting the precedent I believed to be safe, I didn’t have to worry about making a decision each time the next overnight question came up. The precedent was set.
There have been plenty of times people thought I was too strict, my husband and I were ridiculous parents, and we were warned our children would resent us for setting these kinds of boundaries. But, you know what? They do not resent us and my children were never put in a position of unnecessary danger for the sake of fun. They had plenty of fun and plenty of friends. The most important thing is not what other people think about your parenting, but about if you are doing what is best for your child.
Just a note… I am talking about YOUNG elementary aged children in these two examples. I still did not allow my older children to do over nights with friends… but I also did not stay at a party with them! I did call the parents of the one giving the party and find out what adults would be there, the planned activities and the time it would be over. AND, by the time children are jr and senior high age, if the other things we will talk about in teaching them mature thinking and decision making are in place, you can allow them more and more freedom within bounds and with full information about their whereabouts, activities and with whom they are spending their time.
When my husband and I were younger parents, we read books and attended seminars on parenting and family. Most of them were on the side of homeschooling and conservatism and had very good arguments about how and why to protect our children from other people and families that do not think the same as we did. There is something to be said for keeping your child from being exposed to things you believe are bad thought processes. But, there is also over protecting them to a point where they cannot function in the real world and have no compass by which to direct their decisions.
A child’s mind is constantly developing thought processes. Not just thoughts… but ways to think. As a mom, you want to direct their mind to process thoughts so that they make wise decisions. In order to do that, they need to understand both the evil and the good. They need to see why something is right or wrong so they can make a determination as to how that relates to their own future decisions.
When my older children were very small, The Little Mermaid movie came out. The movie was delightful, colorful and full of fun songs and humorous characters. I enjoyed watching it, but saw some disturbing ideas brought out in the story. Since I am a Christian, one thing I thought about was why Ariel went to a witch for an answer instead of prayer. Of course, this was a fantasy, so I could get past that ok. But, what I couldn’t get past was the idea that she disobeys her father, completely disregards his rules and advice, goes against all that she was taught… and in the end, she ends up with the man of her dreams and a happily ever after ending.
My question was… why is this ok? Not to mention the idea of “love at first sight” and the “do anything to pursue love” mentality… which is not wise at all in real life. My concern was the thought process that this could instill in my children’s minds… especially my daughters who I expected would tend to have romantic outlooks more than my sons would.
My children’s friends would all be seeing this movie and talking about what fun it was, enjoying the characters, etc. When we go to a fast food restaurant, the little toy would be a character from the movie. When we go to the store, they will see more Little Mermaid stuff. Can I protect my children from all this? Should I? But, I didn’t want them to think disobedience to parents leads to true love…. Which in the end is the message in the movie.
I decided we would face this head on. When the movie came out on video, we would watch it together. We did! Before they watched it, I told them to watch for things that were good or bad in the movie. We had fun, sang the songs, and enjoyed the characters and their silly antics. But, then we had a conversation. I asked the children about what messages were in the movie. What did Ariel do that was wrong? What should she have done if this were a nonfiction story? By discussing the story with my children, they learned how to discern truth from fiction, right from wrong, and that movies are fantasy and not the way things happen in life. We also talked about our expectations with regard to relationships when they get older.
Then, a few years later, one of the teachers in my daughter’s class wanted to show the Little Mermaid because they were studying sea life and thought it would be a fun movie for the children to watch. I wrote a letter to the teacher explaining my objection to showing that movie because of the message it gives to the children. Not for my children… we had already talked about it. But, those other children in the class were my children’s friends. My children would be growing up interacting with them and I let the teacher know my concern was of the message it was putting into the minds of those students. Did this Christian school really want to promote a movie that tells children disobedience to parents can lead to happiness in the end?
I hope you can understand the underlying idea that it is the processes of thought that matter more than what the child is exposed to in regards to ideas. As your child grows, looking at the underlying message of stories and movies they see, people they interact with and even language they hear is the key to reaching your child’s mind. Your goals should be for them to be able to discern good from evil, not that you keep them from knowing about either.
If I would have decided they could not watch any movies that would expose them to ideas I believe to be wrong, they would have been very isolated from what is going on in the world. Instead, teach your children to think through what is going on for themselves and discuss it with you. Then, you can help them learn to make wise decisions without being influenced by negative messages. Slowly regulate things that are introduced to them as they get older and can handle it.
The pitfall is to keep your child so boxed in from seeing anything that might be against your ideas that they are unable to think through things that they will eventually be exposed to in their lives.
Before I give a couple of examples, I want you all to know I am totally OK with homeschooling. I homeschooled for more than 13 years and it was great! I also have children that attend private school and a child who attended some public high school classes as supplemental education to homeschooling and attended a technical school. All of my children who are old enough have attended college. So, though I have two examples to share of homeschooled children who have had problems because of over-protection, I know many children who have homeschooled and are well adjusted and happy adults including some of my own.
I have a friend who has shielded her daughter so much that she is unable to function in the real world. Her fear is that her child will be damaged by the world, so she homeschooled her. She considered my family to be a questionable influence also, so has not interacted with my family for years. Her daughter has never been to camp, school, or a youth function. She did not attend Sunday school unless her mother was in the room with her. She is now in her 20s and still has no real outside friends. She is not allowed to go to weddings, youth programs, or graduation events even if they involve relatives. How much her daughter has missed in the name of protecting her!
Another friend of mine has homeschooled her children and her children resent her. They are angry because she has kept them from having friends and considered any friends that have come around to be a threat to her children’s well-being. She loves her children dearly, but doesn’t see how her overprotection is damaging her relationship with her children and their ability to successfully interact with the world.
Family Identity: Protecting Them From Bad Influences
Teach your child to be family oriented and not friend-oriented. That does not mean they do not have close friends and share lots of time with them. It does mean that they are influenced more by your family (parents) then by their friends. Tell your children to be the influencers and not to be influenced.
Have you ever heard… “you can’t pick your children’s friends!”? I agree. You can’t make your child like someone… But you can choose who they will NOT have as friends. Talk to your children often and early about friends. Talk about what characteristics to look for when choosing close friends. To be friend-ly to everyone. But choosing a close friend is different.
I used to tell my daughters “Your sister is your best friend. No matter who else you meet in your life, you will always have her as your sister.” I would tell the boys the same thing and remind them they are brothers and no matter who else they meet, their brothers will always be their friends. “Other friends may come and go, and likely will. But your siblings will always be in your life.”
Make a family identity that matters. We would talk about “the McLeans” and talk about the commonalities of our family and how each person was a part of it. We have little phrases we laugh about together. We sing together as a ministry. We enjoy dark humor together, have traditions that are just for us to share. We have a picture wall in our home and we joke about who is at the “top of the wall”.
All these things created a family identity. It makes each of us feel a part of the group and that we do not want to disappoint or damage the reputation of our group. We feel pride in our family identity. This helped the children to be family oriented rather than friend oriented.
We also said things like… “You are a McLean, so you earn your Eagle Scout Rank.” “You are a McLean, so you attend church every week.” “You are a McLean, so…” Anything we wanted to instill in our children, we would make it a part of our family identity. We expected our children to all support each other as they achieve these things that we set up as part of the family. This family identity also is helpful whenever we have a crisis and we believe one of our children are starting to go down a wrong path. We can all come together to guide them back to the right way === and they appreciate it once they realize their mistake.
Safety in the Technical World
What age is appropriate for your child to have a cell phone? What are the reasons you choose this age?
We decided our children would not have their own cell phones until they could drive. Of course, again, that is a decision you make as a parent, but we didn’t want them to be oriented to texting and calling their friends as a habit all day and night.
What is appropriate for computer and internet use?
The internet is a vast world of information and can be a wonderful and helpful tool when used appropriately. As you all know, it can also be a dangerous place. Your monitoring of your children’s access to it is just as important as any other “place” they might go. Get a monitor that allows you to view all places visited by people on all devices in your home.
We have protection on our WiFi network so we can see where everyone has been when on any internet capable devices. It also has blockers on it to prevent unacceptable content from entering our home. We use Disney Circle, which costs about $100. There are many products out there to accomplish this, but consider it just as important-- if not MORE important--- than wearing a seatbelt! When we talk about jobs and teaching responsibility, we will discuss more about computer use.
Regarding movie content, a good place to go is pluggedinonline.com. This is a website by Focus on the Family that reviews movies, games, and etc. I look at it to determine whether it would be appropriate for my children to see a movie with their friends. It reviews violence, language, sexual content, spiritual content, drug and alcohol use, and overall message. One thing I am very sensitive to is language. I always express how inappropriate it is to say vulgar words. This is a value I want to instill in my children. This site tells what words are inappropriate in movies so I can know ahead of time and determine whether a movie is worth seeing or not.
It’s pretty easy to guard your TV. Just record programs you believe are good for your children to see. There are lots of great shows on that teach science and history, and even some that teach good character qualities. Record shows and use them as a reward for good behavior. Then you don’t have to worry about what they are watching when using the TV.
You are the Mom. You control the cell phone, the internet, the TV, movies and anything else your child sees and interacts with during their day including the friends and relatives with which they spend time. Don’t be afraid to do #3 on our list of basics. (You will use your authority to make sure what’s best for them is done.)
Helping Your Child Make Good Decisions
The best way to teach your child to make good decisions is to talk to them --- constantly. Have conversations with them about everything. Each place you go, person you interact with, movie or TV show you watch, story you read can be a lesson. Teach them to think about what messages they are seeing and what they are receiving in messages from others. Ask them lots of questions so you can see the thought processes that are going on and what progress is being made and what needs to be changed in their thinking. Do this subtly and show gratitude each time they share their thoughts with you. But be aware.
One good way to get them talking is to say, “What was the best part of your day?”
When very young toddlers and preschoolers, talk to them about stories in the scriptures or in story books. Talk about the villain and ask them about what he is doing wrong. Talk about the hero. What is he doing and what good character qualities is he showing? What decisions is he making in thinking of others? Talk about friends and what a good friend does and what a good friend does not do.
With elementary children, continue to use stories as lessons, but also point out things you see that are good decisions vs bad decisions. For instance, talk about good eating habits. Set out several ideas of food choices and talk about making choices and how they will affect their life and health in the future. Talk about friends and good vs bad choices and do the same thing. What good choices will lead to and what bad choices will lead to.
Then, talk about people and give them scenarios about when to and not to talk to strangers. Explain it is ok to talk to anyone as long as your parent or a trusted adult is with you. Practice talking to adults as we learned in “Teaching Social Skills” but also practice NOT talking to strangers. Pretend they are approached by a stranger and are not near a trusted known adult. Teach them how and practice how to run toward a trusted adult immediately. Give them the confidence to do this.
Talk to them about their body being their own and that ANY time they feel uncomfortable about any interaction they have had with anyone including friends and relatives, they need to know you are interested in their feelings and want them to talk about it with you.
Talk them through peer pressure. What if a friend asks them to do something they know is wrong? Can they be the strong one? Can they stand alone for what they believe to be right? Talk about how their family identity can help them do that. Discuss their reputation and how they will be respected if they choose the right thing even if at the moment they feel left out or pressured to do the wrong thing. Tell them to remember maturity and that they will in the future be glad they made the right decision at the time.
With teenagers – continue to discuss those things we already mentioned, but begin conversations that are more detailed about choices in relationships. What are your expectations and what warning signs should they watch for in making decisions about this part of their lives? When is it appropriate to be in a romantic relationship? Is this the appropriate time for them? Help them understand emotional attachments and how to make mature decisions that are not based upon temporary and ever changing emotions.
The important thing in protecting your child both physically and spiritually is that you will not always be there. They need to be the ones learning about mature thinking patterns. What they are exposed to is not as important as learning how to process their thinking patterns into wise decisions that will keep them safe and on the right path. Help them learn that, and you will raise up children who will be safe and become mature and successful adults!