Suburban Snapshots

Fear-Based Parenting

Thursday, July 01, 2010

"If you died today, who would care for your family?" Have you guys seen this ad? It shows up next to my Yahoo inbox like a throbbing zit at the end of my nose. The ad usually features someone sobbing over a grave, or more insidiously, a little kid looking you straight in the eyes — "My dad's dead, and now Mom and I live in a van down by the river."

This ad, and the slew of fear-based advertising I see so much of, makes me angry. I'm tired of On-Star insinuating that if I don't have their system, I'll probably languish in my wrecked car, my cell phone flung out of reach, surviving for days on just the Goldfish and Munchkin crumbs I can scavenge from the backseat until help finally arrives (if I'm lucky). I'm tired of the news telling me that my crib or mosquitoes or spinach is going to hurt my kid. I don't want anymore emails warning me about gang initiations, Internet cons or car-jacking schemes.

I know that bad things happen, that not everyone is good at heart, that 'someone else' isn't always a stranger. But it seems we're constantly manipulated by messages of fear; maybe because it sells, because it's primal and tantalizing. Maybe it's what gets us to sit up and pay attention.

Yet it's tempting to use the same tactics on Anna, especially when I know she's in the midst of something that could hurt her. She loves to dart into the shallow waves at the ocean; I consciously stop myself from yelling after her, "Don't go too far, the waves will suck you in, drag you to Europe, there are sharks, hypothermia, summer tourists who suck at surfing!" and instead see how, "Be careful, the big waves might knock you down" works. Inside, I secretly wish I could tie a rope around her and keep one end fastened to my belt loop…'til she's like 20.

I know parents who justifiably use worst-case-scenarios with their kids to great effect. You have to keep your babies safe, and let's face it, they're not all that bright. My sister graphically describes each bone that might break and the exact quantity of blood that could spill if her kids run into their busy road. The cherry on top is usually something like, "And I'm not going to be the one to scrape you up with a shovel!" You know what? Her kids stay out of the street.

But I think I'll try my way for a while, though each day Anna becomes more and more like an escaped dog I'm trying to lure home — calling her name gets just enough of her attention that she realizes how big a head start she's got, she glances and runs fearlessly, flailing onward. How do I temper that, keep her safe, without dampening that little spirit? What do you do?

blog comments powered by Disqus