Friday, May 4, 2012

Child Safety is not so simple, and it never ends!


Once upon a time I wrote a child safety book. I must admit that I thought it was pretty brilliant at the time. I'd done some speaking to children on the subject of safety, and I remember I would just wrack my brain trying to think of every possible scenario so I could tell the kids what they should and should not do. But I know that is impossible, because Michaela had been through child safety classes, and we had discussed it at home, but nobody had ever thought of the exact scenario she faced ... if your scooter is not where you left it, don't go get it. The fact of the tremendous amount of training she'd received in child safety, and that omission, has weighed heavily on me, and I know that there are tons of scenarios out there that children could face that I haven't begun to imagine.

So I came up with the idea of teaching kids to "listen to your smart voice." This basically meant being aware in every situation, analyzing it, the pros and cons, and making "smart" choices. You know, if someone asks if you want to see their puppy, you take into consideration that if they don't have a puppy and are trying to kidnap you, then the results would be very, very bad if you went with them. And on the other hand, if they did have a puppy and you didn't get to see it, by comparison that wouldn't be so terrible -- you stood to lose a lot more than you stood to gain.

I suppose there may still be something to taking into account that relative balance, but the thing is that once I finished thinking I was brilliant for coming up with this idea, I started doubting it. Was I teaching kids to be smart and safe, or was I just simply planting the seeds of fear? Now you may say that a little fear is a healthy thing, and it is. It is true that a little bit of fear is a good idea, but I don't think it should be the central aspect of our lives.

I had all my own fears and paranoias when my kids were growing up. I'd had them before, but had done my best to keep them under control. After Michaela was kidnapped, however, I let those fears come roaming out of the closet and into the light of day. I did not let my kids run freely around town. I analyzed everywhere they went and everything they did, and if I did let them do something, I invariably mentioned my fears to them just so they'd know to be careful. But you probably remember a few years ago, Kelly Clarkson released the song "Because of You," and the lyrics stuck my heart:

Because of you, 
I never stray too far from the sidewalk.
Because of you, 
I learned to play on the safe side so I don't get hurt.
Because of you,
I find it hard to trust not only me,
but everyone around me.
Because of you,
I am afraid.

And one thing I knew was that I did not want to do this to my children! If you could keep your kids locked away in the house, they would stay safe from most dangers, but what kind of life wouldthat be? What good would it do to live safely to a hundred years old if you never actually lived?

The thing is that child safety concerns don't end some magical day when your child turns a certain age. I remember after Michaela was kidnapped when I read "The Stranger Beside Me" about Ted Bundy. All his victims were young adults. In fact, as kids grow up, the list of possible dangers gets longer. You aren't just worried about them falling on the sidewalk. They are driving cars, going places, doing things. They are dating, and that gets to be more of a concern as they get older and the people they are dating are not friends from school, but relative strangers to them and everyone they know, even complete strangers they met at the club or coffee shop! 

My own parenting style has been a mishmosh of crazy overprotectiveness and outrageous liberality. My kids are now all young adults, and all but one actually still lives with me, so I still get to inflict myself on them. I'm really proud of them actually. I can yell and scream and carry on at my 24-year old son over how stupid it is to go bike riding with his friends in the pouring rain in the middle of the night. And let me make this clear, I DO think it is stupid, and I can't say I'm proud of him for doing such a stupid thing, but I am proud of him for doing what he considers to be best for himself rather than being contained by my fears. If that makes sense. And every single one of my kids is like this, whether it's about bikes or cars or trips or even going out on a limb in personal relationships. They will listen to me, and I can get really outrageous in my tirades about what's safe and what's not, and they won't yell or argue or carry on, or get angry or upset, or defend themselves. They will smile and pat me on the head and do what they think is best for them.

And me, I have to sit back and take a deep breath, and exercise every bit of faith and trust that I have. I have to remember the path, that I believe there is a path, that I believe it's a good path. And I have to be really, really happy that my kids have grown to have strong, independent, and courageous spirits in spite of me, so that they can find and follow their own paths instead of staying on the sidewalk. Sometimes they might get hurt. But they will recover, and they will learn that when you get hurt, you do recover, and that will help them to have more courage, physically, spiritually, and emotionally. One day, these kids might grow up and want to have kids of their own, and they will need to have developed huge reservoirs of courage for that!

So anyway, the point of this is that I am deleting what links I may have posted to this child safety book, and if I can figure out how to do it, I just might pull the book altogether. But in the meantime, if you should come across it, remember that it's flawed. Sure we need to teach our kids to listen to their smart voices, but we need to teach them most of all to listen to their hearts. And those instructions are hard to put into a book. 




21 comments:

  1. this is a great way of keeping kids safe! nice job! :)

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  2. Wonderful advice, Sharon.Much love.

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  3. Great advice Sharon. Much love.

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  4. Thanks Sharon for sharing. I'm raising 2 of my grandkids and I've had them since they were babies and I worry a lot about them. Jessica will be 14 on Monday and Raymond is 13. They are 10 months apart. With all the kidnaps and abductions of children all over I worry about them. I like what you said, "I came up with the idea of teaching kids to "listen to your smart voice." This basically meant being aware in every situation, analyzing it, the pros and cons, and making "smart" choices". Thanks again for sharing and prayers always for you , Michaela and your family from Thelma Mandera

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  5. The description of the kidnapper in Michaela's case is so similar to a kidnapper description in another 9 year old child's abduction case that took place six months before but on the east coast. There are some differences but some striking similarities as well. The height of the man is a pretty close match, long dirty blond hair and severe pockmarked face.. even down to the box shaped car, which I believe was described as a older model Monte Carlo. I don't know. I guess the odds of two kidnappers looking quite similar wouldn't be so far fetched because of the sheer number of people in this world.. it just jumped out at me as being strange. One thing for sure, we can't tell our children what a kidnapper might look like for obvious reasons, so your book IS a brilliant idea. Even if you can't teach every scenario to a child, perhaps that one thing you did teach, saved more lives than you could ever imagine.

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  6. after i read this post, LITERALLY the next webpage i visited had this Bible verse:

    "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." - Philippians 4:6-7

    it's a verse that, as a Christian & someone who chose a Christian high school & college, i have heard countless times. but to have it show up within seconds of reading this particular post of yours, well, i don't think it's just coincidence. i hope that you are able to find the peace God speaks of and promises. after my own abduction i had wounds that have healed but of course i still bear the scars from that as well as 11 years of abuse and other things. but in this area i have peace, and am thankful for what happened because without it i wouldn't be passionate about being a social worker if i ever get better physically, about reaching out to others & especially working with kids, and about sharing how God really can work things even as bad as what i went through as a child for good. i pray that one day Michaela will be able to share her own story as well.

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  7. I stumbled across your blog somehow, and I can't stop reading. I don't know what to say... I cried, I smiled, I felt what must be only a fraction of the pain that you feel, and a sense of powerlessness. You are an amazing woman, and your strength and resolve in the face of such a terrible event is just breathtaking. My love and hope goes out to you and your family.

    I was wondering, also, whether you have a presence on Facebook? It seems to be the most effective way of reaching large numbers of people over the internet these days. A picture or a link can be spread across millions of profiles very easily.

    My thoughts are with you, and I pray that you find her.

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  8. Thank you, Gwyneth. And yes, I do have a facebook for Michaela, although probably 90 percent of what I post there are links to this blog.

    https://www.facebook.com/MichaelaJoyGarecht

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  9. Oh how I love this post! I do the whole "trust your gut feeling" but I can't tell you, Sharon, how awesome this post is.

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    1. You are so welcome! I have been struggling as my daughter is almost 3 now and I worry so so much. But I want her so desperately to have a childhood without fear of everything. My own experience has left me scared, but it wasn't her experience so I'm constantly weighing that and trying to let her be herself without inflicting my own past trauma on her. It is very hard. Tgis post brought me so much comfort.

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  10. Even if SMART VOICE doesn't cover every possible scenario (and how could it?), my children have learned much from it. It's a starting point, if nothing else, where a parent can begin the discussion about difficult, yet real, things. I think I told you once before: I grew up with a paranoid mom, and she made it sound like being kidnapped was a rite of passage, something I'd eventually have to deal with, given her fears of it. But SMART VOICE doesn't impress that message upon young minds. It encourages them to weigh consequence and immediate gratification (i.e., the puppy scenario.) One of my kids was so impressed with your book that she brought it to her 4th grade classroom to share with other children, and she even read aloud from it to the entire bunch. Despite its limitations (and ANY and EVERY book has limitations), it's a good piece of work, Sharon.

    Penny

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    1. Thank you, Penny. I really appreciate that. I am just afraid of teaching kids to live fearfully, and I am afraid that making kids stop and check with their smart voice is teaching them to stop and look for danger in everything. Have you found it to have that effect?

      Although I will admit, I have found kids are not that easy to scare. My own daughter, after having her sister kidnapped, believed she was invincible. She'd just confidently say, "If anybody tries to kidnap me, I will just KICK him."

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  11. hi, Sharon. so was that search a while ago for michaelas remains successful? I understand if you don't want to talk about it, so u don't have to answer if you don't want to.

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    1. Believe me, if Michaela is ever found, you will see that on this blog.

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    2. ok, Sharon. thank you and best of luck! i sure hope Wesley shermantine was wrong about everything and michaela is out there somewhere, where I believe she is. <3

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    3. Thomas, Wesley Shermantine specifically said that he does not know anything at all about Michaela's case. She is not one of the girls he is giving information about. He just suggested that maybe Herzog resembled our composite.

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  12. It is so sad that back in my day we didnt have to worry about child abductions. my mom and alot of kids' moms would let their kids go down a few blocks to a nearby store without a worry. we just had to be back home by dinner. now as a mother myself i have an 18 year old daughter who is a senior in high school and during her childhood there was alot more abductions and we even lived in a small city in california but i was very careful with my daughter. i wish the world didn't have to worry about horrible child predators. it just rips a hole in my heart imagining my little baby girl gone. if this ever did happen to me what happened to you sharon, i would not be as strong as you! ;) you are very strong sharon and i know Michaela is out there somewhere!! she has to be!! You and Michaela are very strong together! Michaela looks so beautiful in her childhood photos you have here on your blog! You, Michaela, and your whole family are in my prayers! Stay strong Sharon! Lots of Love, Rhiannon

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  13. I think in this day and age kids need to have fear. I know it is sad but it is so true. I grew up in fear and I know that it helped me be cautions. When I was seven years old I was playing in a field with my sister when a truck pulled over to the side of the road. A man got out and started calling to my sister and myself trying to get us to come over to his truck.

    If I did not have fear I would have went right over and talked to him and I would probably not be here today.

    I love your book. I bought it a while back and I trully believe that it will do so much good. I hope you chance your mind about pulling it.

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  14. I also feel that children should have through awareness about kidnappings and dangers of that .we ask them to take precautions regarding other life threatening things so kidnapping ? It is also a life and death case .Developing fear on strangers may be harmful in one way but children should be learned to not to take any sort of risk.I feel when they become big ,they can enjoy freedom but not this young age where they should be under adult supervision . protecting the child is more important than any thing else and world is not as old days..
    I appreciate your smart voice but added fear to it may be advantages .chandanee

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  15. did you see the news? (etan patz case) they arrested a guy in the etan patz case (first kid on a milk carton) (33 years) later :( poor family hoping wating for so long for good news :(:( my heart goes out to all of you in these situations at least now they will have closure :( :(

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