Finding a Balance in Protecting Kids

I took a short swim in the pool yesterday evening and then decided to read a book for awhile in one of the poolside chairs. A young family was swimming in the pool. There was dad and mom, an older daughter (about 9) and a younger son (about 3). They splashed and cavorted in the pool. The laughter was an enjoyable backdrop to the nice cool breeze which tempered the remaining moments of a warm day under a deep blue sky. A variety of bird species offered their vocal counterpoint to the family fun as they twittered (To Steve Tanner, in case he is reading this: no, not the web application twitter. *grin*) about in the sky above, flitting from tree to tree. On the surface, it was a peaceful moment.

But there was a subtext underway as well. I noticed that dad and mom seemed only to be paying passing attention to the kids. They were far more interested in each other. It appeared they had delegated primary responsibility for watching the boy to the daughter, who actually seemed more interested in practicing her swimming skills. What gave me a moment of pause is when the youngest wandered off to the hot tub by himself, and none of them followed him to bring him back. Yes, he had a flotation vest on, but still, the water in the tub is too hot for children that young. It can actually be quite dangerous, especially since a small child cannot be seen in the hot tub from the vantage point of the pool.

He finally came back, and began running around the perimeter of the pool, which was soaked with water for obvious reasons. Occasionally he also jumped into the water, which was fine since he had the jacket on. Yet they did not say anything to him about the running. I suppose they figured that if he fell into the water his flotation vest would keep him afloat. But what about if he fell and knocked his head on the concrete? What then?

Were they trying to give him space to learn on his own? Did they figure they were close by so if anything happened they could come to his aid? Did they have that much trust in their daughter that they figured they could let him do as he wished and she would take care of it? At what point would they have been willing to step in to provide preventive instruction? Were they even aware of the inherent risks they were taking by allowing him to engage in this behavior? In short, what was the appropriate balance in protecting the young boy?

I realize that there is such a thing as being overprotective. The only two issues that made me wonder were the boy’s freedom to wander off by himself to the hot tub, and also to run at full tilt on the wet concrete around the perimeter of the pool. Honestly, I was so distracted by this that I found myself keeping a watchful eye on him rather than the content of my book because I did not perceive that the parents were attentive to his situation!

What parameters of balance do you set in your home or in your children’s ministry? How do you go about ensuring the safety of your children without being overbearing? How might this apply not only to obvious physical dangers, but also dangers to the hearts and minds of children through content which they consume in the culture?


2 thoughts on “Finding a Balance in Protecting Kids

  1. Oh gosh, finding this balance is my life. Case and point, at a plant nursery today. They have a sandbox for kids, so I tell her to play there, wanting badly that this will be an enjoyable diversion for her. But before I wander off, I look back to see she has been hijacked by the interesting and friendly dog and she is off chasing him near the road, where cars are whizzing by.

    We have set, I think, very clear parameters about swats. She gets them only for direct disobedience and for endangering her own safety.

    Everyday is a huge joy to be with her as she is so happy, clever, fun and easy. But she is still 3.

    Balance is the goal in child rearing. I guess in what you witnessed I would also want very much to give the parents of the benefit of the doubt, but still even with that–oversights, miscalculations still happen. It is hard to strike the balance between being a helicopter parent and being practically oblivious.

  2. I like the analogy of helicopter parent. With toddlers, I think it fits. You can alternate between hands-on parenting and observing from a distance, but the reality is, they will always need that direct supervision, simply because they are infants, incapable of fully comprehending dangers or evaluating risks. It’s one of the tough realities of parenting. In my case I get to send kids home after a couple of hours each week. Parents don’t have the luxury of relaxing their diligence. Whew. I truly am sympathetic to the challenge and I admire parents for their role in taking it on.

    Just think, soon they will enter their preteen years and be far more capable. Of course, that period of life has its own unique rewards. :)

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