Dangerous Things to Do with Your Kids

[amazon asin=0451234197&template=thumbnail1&chan=default]Guest: Gever Tulley, author of of 50 Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Children Do.
Topic: Teaching your children about safety by helping them learn to manage risk.
Issues: Exciting ways for your children (and you) to explore the world around them; melting glass, walking a tightrope, tasting electricity, throwing things out of moving cars, deconstructing appliances, and more.

Nothing to Fear but Overreactions

Dear Mr. Dad: I’ve read stories about people having ID numbers etched into their children’s teeth, and not letting their kids play outside, and those Amber Alerts make it seem as though hundreds of children are being abducted and murdered every day. Like most parents, I want to protect my kids. I don’t mean to sound heartless, but I think we’ve gone overboard. Am I wrong?

A: Nope, I think you’re absolutely right. The reality is that, factoring out the threat of nuclear war, the world is not any more dangerous for children today than it was a few generations ago. But thanks in large part to the media, which repeats stories over and over and over, too many parents are in a panic. And our children are paying the price.

When I was as young as eight, growing up in Oakland, California, I took city busses all over town to visit friends, grandparents, even go bowling. And all the other kids I knew were doing the same thing. But I’m pretty sure that if I put my 10-year old on a bus by herself today, I’d get arrested.

Just to be clear, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t take reasonable precautions to keep our kids safe. Of course we should. We should teach them to look both ways before they cross streets, wear helmets when they ride their bikes or skateboards, wear seatbelts in the car, and not take candy from strangers. And before sending our kids off on a playdate, we should try to make sure that the adults in charge are responsible and trustworthy. But we can’t protect them from every possible danger. Not letting our kids explore their neighborhood (or even their own backyards), not allowing them to get a few bumps and bruises once in a while, and filling their heads with stories of dangerous strangers lurking behind every tree, we’re keeping them from developing the independence, self-confidence, and ability to made decisions that they’ll need as they stumble toward adulthood.

Part of the problems is that we’re way too concerned with what other people think. Let me give you a few examples. A recent study of more than 3,000 children and parents found that while half of parents played outside at least once a day when they were young, only 23% would allow their own children to do the same. Why? Well, 53% of those parents said they were worried about traffic. And 40% said they were concerned about “stranger danger.” I get both of those, even though the fears are exaggerated. But the statistic that really got me was that 30% of the parents who keep their kids cooped up indoors feel that they’ll be harshly judged by their neighbors if they let the kids play outside unsupervised.
Another recent study was even more horrifying—and tragic. This one talked about how a growing number of daycares have banned physical contact between caregivers and children out of fear that the adults might be accused of molesting the youngsters. We’re talking about toddlers and younger. In some cases, the daycare staff is being told that cuddling small children is bad because it could make them too dependent. What a crock.
Anyone who’s spent more than five minutes around small children knows how much they’re comforted by physical touch. Many experts say that depriving kids of being cuddled or held or, gasp, kissed, increases their stress levels and can have serious, long-term negative consequences for their development. On a less-scientific level, it seems positively cruel.

Bullies and the Cycle of Fear + Child Safety + The Benefits of Risk and Danger

[amazon asin=0062105078&template=thumbnail1&chan=default]Guest: Carrie Goldman, author of Bullied.
Topic: What every parent, teacher, and kid needs to know about ending the cycle of fear.
Issues: Eye-opening stats on the prevalence of bullying; the harmful effects of bullying on the brain; creating a home environment that produces neither bullies nor victims; why typical school anti-bullying/zero tolerance policies do more harm than good.


[amazon asin=0964004224&template=thumbnail1&chan=default]Guest 2: Paula Statman, author of Raising Careful, Confident Kids in a Crazy World.Topic: Teaching kids to be safe and strong.
Issues: Striking a healthy balance between safety and panic; turning nice kids into safe kids; why scare tactics don’t work; what parents and kids need to know about sex offenders; much more.


[amazon asin=077108708X&template=thumbnail1&chan=default]Guest 3: Michael Ungar, author of Too Safe for Their Own Good.
Topic: How risk and responsibility help teens thrive.
Issues: Adolescents are safer now than at any time in history—why are we overly protecting them? How bubble-wrapping kids stunts their healthy growth and puts them at harm; the benefits of experiencing manageable amounts of danger.

Taking Care of Mrs GI Dad

Dear Mr. Dad: You’ve written a lot of about how deployed dads can maintain strong relationships with their children while they’re away—and I’ve learned a lot of great stuff. But what about my wife? How do I keep my relationship with her strong too?

A: Excellent question! With all the attention that gets paid to dad-child relationships, it’s easy to forget that military marriages need plenty of care and feeding as well. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

  • Adapt some of the kid-related activities you’re doing and use them with your wife. For example, if you’re making CDs or DVDs to send home, don’t stop with the kids’ books. Record some poetry or a chapter of a novel you’re both interested in reading. Send some R-rated—or X if you’re feeling brave—love notes home (in sealed envelopes) and have your children hide them where Mommy will find them.
  • Don’t compare or criticize. Yes, you may be dealing with life-threatening situations every day. Meanwhile, back at home, your wife is going through some pretty intense battles too. It’s apples and oranges, so any comparison will be unfair to one side or the other. Your wife probably has the good sense not to tell you how to do your job, so show her the same courtesy.
  • Support her. Your wife truly needs to know that you understand that life isn’t easy for her right now. She also needs to know that you love he, you think she’s doing a great job, and you support her 100 percent.
  • Ask her to limit media consumption. If your wife is one of those obsessive news junkies—watching TV for hours and hours every day and consuming every other kind of news story she can lay her hands on or click a mouse at—do everything you can to get her to cut back. This kind of behavior is usually an indication that she’s highly stressed about your physical safety and desperately need sof some reassurance. As guys, we often like to report how tough our living conditions are, or go through a bullet-by-bullet description of a firefight we survived. But some information is best kept to yourself.
  • Encourage her to get some support. Whether you’re asking for it or not, you’re getting a lot of emotional and social support from the other guys in your unit. Each of you knows exactly what everyone else is going through, and sometimes just knowing you’re not alone can be very reassuring. Your wife needs to find a similar support network. Fortunately, every unit has some kind of family support organization where wives (or at-home husbands) can get together with others who share their experience. They offer everything from a safe place to vent frustrations to help with babysitting. Unfortunately, a majority of wives don’t participate in FRG activities.
  • Encourage her to keep a positive outlook. But be very careful how you do this. Telling a woman who’s overwhelmed, lonely, sad, and depressed to “cheer up” or “look at the bright side” won’t go over well. Reminds me of one of my favorite cartoons. It’s called “One-session psychotherapy,” and the illustration is of a therapist backhanding a patient across the face while yelling, “Snap out of it!”
  • Encourage her to relax. Downtime in our society is hugely underrated. And a little goes a long way. A couple of hours off to take a yoga class or just a long walk alone could energize your wife for the rest of the week.