A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, my oldest children were born. While it seems like only yesterday, it was actually nearly 26 years ago. I remember it like it was yesterday. The twins were lying on the hospital bed and I teasingly asked my then husband at what age did he think he would let the girl start dating.
While it was a joke, he seriously answered that she would be 40 years old or over his dead body. And I laughingly replied that it probably would be over his dead body if he made her wait until she was 40!
But my own question got me thinking about safety and the rules that I would want my children to obey in order to stay safe. And I started reading about stranger danger, puppies in the park and men who used women to lure children into cars.
As they grew and began talking I began teaching in terms they could understand all the things they needed to know in order to stay safe without telling them all the things they didn’t need to know that would scare them.
And this again started me thinking. What about when they grew older and they were off on their own, at school, at the park or at the mall with their friends. What did I want them to know? What were the rules I wanted them to follow because they were important to me?
Not because the rules were important to me, but because my children were important and I believe their safety was of the ultimate importance.
All this concern likely stemmed from my professional background as a head injury and spinal cord injury nurse. For instance, I used to warn my boys they could break any bones but they must protect their head and back at all costs. It was just a function of everything I had seen in my professional life. This meant that they always wore helmets in whatever they did that had wheels.
My sons were some of the only boys in the neighborhood with gas powered GoPeds. They loved them and one son learned how to repair and rebuild them. But every time they got on them they wore a helmet. Even when they built ramps on the front driveway and spent hours riding up and flying off, they wore their pads and helmets.
Safety might have been of the utmost importance to me because I knew the consequences to families when children were severely injured. You never think it’s going to happen to you, but it’s got to happen to somebody. It’s devastating and life-altering and something I wanted desperately to avoid.
Of course that’s not always possible, and as with most children, we had our share of broken bones and minor head injuries. However, while some like to call them minor head injuries, at no time when the brain suffers a trauma, is it “minor.” And at most times there are some long-term consequences, even when they aren’t experienced immediately. But that’s another story.
As they grew, my list of safety rules grew. And the children seem to accommodate to each new one. We didn’t start the car until their seatbelts were fastened and if they tried to unbuckle themselves before the car reach the garage they were chastised. They didn’t walk across the street unless they were holding an adult’s hand, usually mine.
As they became teenagers I got them cell phones so I could stay in touch and knew where they were. That was another safety rule that was incredibly important to me. I needed to know where they were and how to get in touch with them, not because I wanted to control their behavior or control where they were, but because it was important in case something went wrong.
As they learned I could trust them and they could trust me, they stayed in touch and kept me up-to-date with where they were. Except one time, when my then 17 year old boy decided to go out on a music job with his friend and neither one of them charge their phones.
He and his friend were expected back at his friend’s home after the job was over. They were running audio for a band in a downtown area not known for being a safe neighborhood. At 3 in the morning I got a phone call from the boy’s mother. She had no idea where they were, she couldn’t get in touch with them, and we were both frantic.
It was after that instance, after she and I had been on the phone with the police, after she and I had been on the phone with the music venue and worried sick for at least an hour, that my son learned the importance of keeping his cell phone charged!
We all have rules for our children but I have learned the most important of those is they know what those rules are. Too often a situation occurs during which a new rule is established based on the consequences of what’s happened. Unfortunately, if the children don’t know the rule before the situation it’s hard to hold them responsible, unless it’s reasonable.
For instance, my now 26 year old was 10 years old when he thought jumping out of a 10 foot high treehouse would be fun. His friends egged him on and he did it. When he came home he told me all about it. He was proud that he had the courage to jump out of the tree house. He told me it was 10 feet off the ground because they measured it with his friend’s father’s tape measure. He also told me the first time he jumped out was a little scary, but it got better the second and third time!
We talked about how it was reasonable for him to know better than to jump out of a tree house 10 feet off the ground with the real potential he would break a bone, including his back. And so he was grounded from going up into the tree house for 3 days, the number of times that he had jumped out.
This was one of the twins, and he was fiercely loyal to his sister. It wasn’t until they were 25 that I learned that she had jumped out of the tree house three times as well. He never said. He never told me and she never got punished.
Well jumping out of a tree house wasn’t the worst thing he could have done, it also wasn’t the smartest. And overtime, through trial-and-error, my children and I learned what safety rules were the most important to create and enforce and which ones could be left by the wayside.
The most important part of everything I learned about safety rules, and rules in general, are that they cannot be enforced unless the people affected actually know and understand what those rules are. Spend the time talking to your children and establishing rules with them. When they buy into what’s important to you and why, they are more likely to remember what the rules are and generalize them to situations they find themselves in.
And after all, that’s what’s important . . . keeping them safe.