The Cost Of Carelessness With Kids
Wednesday - July 06, 2005
Children have been in the news a lot lately. That is not usually a good thing. It means something bad has happened. Sometimes the outcome is joyful — a Boy Scout found after four days in the wilderness; a baby left in a truck is whisked away by a thief but discovered alive an hour later; a toddler who plunges four stories from a bedroom window survives with a broken leg.
All too often the ending is tragic. Three little boys found suffocated in the trunk of a car. A teenager disappears on a tropical island on the last night of a graduation celebration.
As parents, we worry a lot about the safety and welfare of our kids. We stay awake at night when they’re sick and we teach them to look both ways when they cross the street. We have ultimate say over what they do and we let them know we are in control. But that’s where it gets scary. How do we know we’ve thought of everything?
Take the little boy who flew out of that window in Waipahu. Why, many are asking, didn’t that family place the bed away from the window? That’s common sense, isn’t it? Well, yes. It’s also a mistake I’ve made myself.
When we moved into our house 10 years ago, our son was a curious, typical toddler. Like all kids that age he liked to climb and he needed to explore.
One day, after we’d been in the house about a month, I leaned gently against the screen in one of the windows in our dining room, which is located on the second floor. Just like that, the screen popped out and I watched, disbelieving, as it sailed downward and clattered on the ground below. I was surprised, and something else. I was horrified. For a month, my child had been at risk. It could easily have been him pushing on that screen and tumbling onto the concrete. Sure, he was small, but he could have pushed a chair over to look out the window. Toddlers have a way of surprising us. It took no strength at all to push that screen out. You can bet that from that day on those windows remained shut and locked until we replaced them with a fall-proof design.
How could I have allowed my son to be at risk? Most people who know me would describe me as overly protective when it comes to my child. I would rather be that way than the other way around. And I had done everything I could think of to make our house safe. We had toilet locks, child-door locks, trick handles on all cupboards. We had covers over electrical outlets, netting on the lanai rails and a gate at the top of the stairs. We kept all of our medications and toxic cleaners out of reach. And yet — I had missed something. That shook me to the core.
That is why I have compassion for parents who work so hard to keep their children safe. Things happen. It’s impossible to anticipate everything, but most of us try anyway.
That said, I have very little patience for those who know the risks, but take them anyway. Squarely in that category is anyone who would leave a child unattended in a car. Even worse, anyone who leaves a child in the car with the keys in the ignition! Doesn’t matter that you’ll only be gone a minute, or even 30 seconds, while you pick something up or get a drink. Does not matter at all. Because it takes only 5 seconds for a thief to turn the key and take off with your child. Now, you know it can happen. It’s been on the news twice now in just a few months. Trouble is, you don’t believe it will happen to you. You have control, and you choose convenience over safety. That, to be frank, is called stupidity.
At some point every parent must give up control. Kids get older; they want and need to stretch their wings. We cannot protect them forever from everything. Most times they end up all right. Sometimes, tragically, they don’t.
But when they’re very young, when they need you most, you do have control. Use it while you can — and to the best of your ability. Of course, we know you can’t control everything. We all understand that. But it is harder to understand carelessness when it could mean life or death for a child.
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