Dear Dr. Ray,

I try hard to keep my kids innocent and to raise them more slowly than their peers. Regularly I hear, “You can’t protect them forever. That’s a real world out there. They have to learn to deal with life.”

Cautious Mom

Yes, you can’t protect them forever. Yes, that is a real world out there. And yes, they do have to learn to deal with life. What does any of this have to do with raising your children at your pace and not the world’s?

What you are hearing makes my top ten list of nonsense notions assaulting good parents today. Mindlessly repeated by so many so often, these notions have assumed the illusion of child-rearing truth. They are “correct” just because everybody is saying they are.

Let’s go back a couple of generations when it was considered intrusive and impolite for people to give you their unasked-for opinions about your parenting. Protecting kids – socially, morally and emotionally – was considered a very good thing. Indeed, a prime duty of grown-ups was to shield children from the ugly and immoral stuff of life while morality was being formed. Keeping kids innocent was a worthy goal, a sign of responsible and wise parenting. Soon enough a youngster would face what was out there beyond childhood.

In the last generation or two, we’ve taken a step backward toward “enlightenment.” It is now more psychologically savvy to help kids deal with seamy reality as it assails them. In fact, if you put this off too long, when the child finally does confront the “real world,” whatever that means, he will be shell-shocked emotionally and morally. He’ll be overwhelmed or seduced by evil or crushed into despair. His very innocence will be his undoing.

I have some questions regarding this “real kids know the real world” assertion. Who is better able to navigate the temptations and challenges of life, a mature child or an immature child? Who is more able to cope with life’s ugliness, a moral eight-year-old or a moral eighteen-year-old?

The opposite of innocence is not maturity; it is worldliness. And worldliness does not equip a child to cope with the world. It just makes him more likely to be comfortable with it.

Most parents accused of being overprotective are not “babying” their children emotionally, nor are they running ahead of their kids, bulldozing all of life’s obstacles and frustrations out of the way. Their protectiveness is morally driven. They want to shield their kids from situations and people who could overwhelm their judgment or their young consciences. A good parent’s supervision, caution and vigilance are healthy and wise.

Only when it’s too late do many parents realize that they weren’t protective enough. Over and over again my experience with families has taught me a real life truth: far more children have trouble as adults not because they grew up slowly but because they saw and learned too much too early.

So stand strong, Mom. Give social freedom later than the peer group gets it. Protect innocence. Lay a strong moral base before you let the world assault it. Your “overprotectiveness” will be rewarded by real life.

Good Discipline, Great Teens Pages 150-151
Copyright © 2007, Ray Guarendi
Servant Books