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Paul Coughlin Christian Blog and Commentary

The Line Between Protection and Overprotection

  • Paul Coughlin

    Paul Coughlin is a former newspaper editor and is the author of numerous books, including the No More Christian Nice Guy, and Raising Bully-Proof Kids. He is the Founder of The Protectors: Freedom From Bullying—Courage, Character & Leadership for Life, (www.theprotectors.org), which provides a values-based and faith-based program that combats the cruelty of adolescent bullying in schools, summer camps, Sunday School, and other places where bullying is prevalent.

    He is a popular speaker who has appeared on Good Morning America, Nightline, 700 Club, Focus on the Family, C-SPAN, The LA Times, FamilyLife Radio, HomeWord with Jim Burns, The New York Times, Newsweek and other media outlets. He is a regular keynote speaker with Iron Sharpens Iron Men’s Conferences.

    His freedom-from-bullying program is used by hundreds throughout North America as well as in England, Australia, Uganda, New Zealand, Brazil, and South Africa. The Protector’s has partnered with Saddleback Church’s Justice & Trafficking Initiative in creating the first-ever Justice Begins on the Playground seminar that helps both faith-based and values-based organizations diminish bullying.

    He is a Boys Varsity Soccer Coach in Southern Oregon, where he was voted Coach of the Year twice, and where he is also a member of the Board of Trustees. He and his wife Sandy have three teenagers and live in Medford, Oregon. Contact him at: paul@theprotectors.org

  • 2008 Jun 11
  • Comments

Are kids really in more danger now than in “the good ol’ days?”  We think they must be when we consider atrocities like the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School and say, “This must be proof that it’s never been worse.”  But we need to do our homework.  For example, in 1927, more than seven decades earlier, in Bath Township, Michigan, school-board member Andrew Kehoe, through a series of bombings, killed forty-five people and injured fifty-eight.  The Bath School Disaster claimed three times as many lives as Columbine, and most were children between the second and sixth grades.  It remains the deadliest act of mass murder at a school in U.S. history.

 

No wonder the writer of Ecclesiastes warns us to not look upon the past with fondness. 

 

I’m not trying to put down the past or paint it black.  I have my fondness for parts of it as well—for one thing, I feel that good-ol’-days neighborliness and hospitality have slipped markedly and that we’d do well to rediscover it.

 

Clearly, in some ways we’re far better off.  And without question, in some ways we’re not—a shocking increase of weapons in school and teenage suicide being two of the most outstanding examples.  It’s safe to say that when it comes to well-being, every generation can rightly claim to have made some steps forward and some steps back.

 

My critique is only an attempt to put our lives in a broader framework.  That’s the main purpose of this chapter, and the next is putting our parenting role in perspective by figuring out what our kids should and shouldn’t be cautious of, both inside and outside their home.  In many ways, what happens to them at home is far more likely to enhance or destroy their safety than what happens elsewhere.   Or as former First Lady Barbara Bush put it, what happens inside our house is far more important than what happens inside the White House.

 

Our work of discernment requires pushing past persistent myths and into unchanging truths.  There are unintended negative consequences to always trying to keep everything on “the safe side,” which in some ways is actually the harmful side.  We want to learn the difference between smart protection and damaging overprotection.  Between being wise and being naïve.  Between choosing intelligently and succumbing to fear.

 

Before we dive in, I want you to consider one factor: There is a “spirit of the age” in this world that wants us to get this important work wrong.  It wants us befuddled and misdirected.  It’s an evil influence, as C.S. Lewis observed, that wants us to think the bow of our parenting boat is on fire, when all the while it’s the stern.  It wants us to think we’re being good parents as we rush to fight on a popular front…so it can attack us from the rear, where we aren’t looking.  It’s an insidious enticement to bite at easy answers that bring us short-term emotional comfort but no actual knowledge that will truly protect our children from harm.

 

It’s a mindset that, for example, has us thinking it’s the creepy-looking man in the trench coat who’s most likely to sexually abuse our daughters, when the facts have told us for decades that a perpetrator is far more likely to be a clean-shaven and “nice” male relative.  In pondering this deceptive spirit, instead of kicking at the darkness, let’s create some light instead, knowing, or at least considering, that there is a force opposing our good desire to love and safeguard our kids.  Parenting is best done by the wise and the shrewd.

 

Child safety advocate Gavin DeBecker has a clever acronym for “news”: Nothing Educational or Worth Seeing.  Treating television news like the R-rated material it is, he keeps a lid on it with his children.  DeBecker is far from naïve about the world, and, given his extensive work in the realm of child safety, my guess is his kids are better prepared for life than many, if not most.  He’s not trying to keep his kids from knowing about darkness.  To the contrary, he’s trying to keep their perception sharp and keen; he keeps television highly restricted because television, by its nature, distorts perception.  (Often not deliberate, but nevertheless true.)  TV news presents concentrated ugliness, strife, wickedness, and evil as the predominant mainstream of what’s actually happening.  A consistent diet of it produces a sensationalized, imbalanced sense of what’s going on around us.

 

Some parents want their young children to watch “the news,” thinking it will help them understand the “real world.”  Two main problems with this approach: (1) It doesn’t come close to presenting the “real world” to most anyone, and (2) it may well plant overarching fear into your child, creating the very kind of boy or girl that becomes a victim in the hands of adult predators and peer bullies.

 

When I ask on my talk show, “Have you seen a shooting in real life?” the only people who say yes are soldiers and police officers.  No civilian has yet to say yes, and very, very few have witnessed any such thing.  Yet violent, person-to-person gunfire events are teleported into our homes almost every times we turn on the news.  Disconnecting the TVs, or using them selectively, may be the most valuable and effective home security system you can install.

 

There is most likely no greater creator of warped perception (next to illicit drug use)  than television; turning it off is psychological protection for our kids.  If you let it, television will show them an unending reel of abductions, murders, exploitations, assaults, shootings, and bodies being wheeled out of homes.  One person’s ordeal becomes everybody’s brush with evil; as time passes, the child watching can come to feel he or she has personally experienced thousands of journeys into darkness, and with the trauma, whether perceived or not, comes victim-creating timidity and fearfulness.

 

Sandy and I did an experiment.  For an entire month we unplugged all electronic media in our home for our kids and ourselves.  No one could use a computer (except for work or homework).  No computer games, and no television unless we watched it together, usually no more than one hour.  When we did watch, we chose shows like America’s Funniest Home Videos, MythBusters, Dirty Jobs and Good Eats.

 

As you can imagine, there was a backlash at first, though it didn’t last as long as we expected.  We were all far more civil to each other even after just a few days.  Then, gradually, we were far more caring about each other.  We played games.  We swam.  Kicked a soccer ball around.  Read books.  We did more family activities, like going for walks and even grooming our dog for a change (he finally looked like someone loves him).  We had more fun together than we’d had in a long time.  Everyone was more peaceful, and we showed each other more grace.  It was obvious how much electronic entertainment had been coming between us.

 

Most experts agree: Restrict access to television (some say throw it away), and not just news, but everything that makes murder and gore and horror look commonplace.  TV violence has a disproportionate effect on aggressive children, and poor academic performance is also highly linked to the consumption of television violence.  Those who fail in school watch more TV, which isolates them from their peers and gives them less time to work for academic success.  The cycle of aggression, academic failure, social failure, and violence-viewing can be so tightly bound that it tragically perpetuates itself.

 

Intuition is a loaded word.  This is at least partly because so many of us mistake intuition for our own inclination.  Inclination primarily describes “a feeling that pushes somebody to make a particular choice or decision.”  Intuition is “the state of being aware of or knowing something without having to discover or perceive it, or the ability to do this.”

 

In preferring inclination over intuition, we’re often prone to forgo discernment and guidance (intuition) in favor of our default perspective and already established biases (inclination).  Intuition, though, can be a powerful compass reading that helps us find the sand-covered line we seek (between protection and overprotection).  Intuition can mean going with your gut sense in a way that helps you cut through the fog and choose wisely, even if you’re not sure why that insight occurred.  Intuition, sometimes, is clarity for unclear reasons.

 

Child safety experts agree that parents not only need to listen to intuition, they also need to sharpen it and remove obstacles in front of it.  Obstacles such as the belief that parents and children must always be polite even in a dangerous situation, or the idea that only “shady-looking” people abuse kids.  When the path for intuition is cleared, it’s a brilliant guide for parents who want to steer their children away from harm.

 

Let’s be clear.  Healthy people have healthy intuition.  If a parent’s mind is deluged by forces or motives that skew her understanding, then her intuition isn’t going to function clearly.  We can’t get clean water from contaminated wells.  Once a parent is in a place of not being able to rely on intuition, encouraging her to follow her intuition will probably send her further in the wrong direction, further from the perspective we really need as parents.  And when we’re unable to unwilling to see the truth, fear is often a primary culprit.

 

Next time:  When Fear Drives Lives

Are kids really in more danger now than in “the good ol’ days?”  We think they must be when we consider atrocities like the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School and say, “This must be proof that it’s never been worse.”  But we need to do our homework.  For example, in 1927, more than seven decades earlier, in Bath Township, Michigan, school-board member Andrew Kehoe, through a series of bombings, killed forty-five people and injured fifty-eight.  The Bath School Disaster claimed three times as many lives as Columbine, and most were children between the second and sixth grades.  It remains the deadliest act of mass murder at a school in U.S. history.

 

No wonder the writer of Ecclesiastes warns us to not look upon the past with fondness. 

 

I’m not trying to put down the past or paint it black.  I have my fondness for parts of it as well—for one thing, I feel that good-ol’-days neighborliness and hospitality have slipped markedly and that we’d do well to rediscover it.

 

Clearly, in some ways we’re far better off.  And without question, in some ways we’re not—a shocking increase of weapons in school and teenage suicide being two of the most outstanding examples.  It’s safe to say that when it comes to well-being, every generation can rightly claim to have made some steps forward and some steps back.

 

My critique is only an attempt to put our lives in a broader framework.  That’s the main purpose of this chapter, and the next is putting our parenting role in perspective by figuring out what our kids should and shouldn’t be cautious of, both inside and outside their home.  In many ways, what happens to them at home is far more likely to enhance or destroy their safety than what happens elsewhere.   Or as former First Lady Barbara Bush put it, what happens inside our house is far more important than what happens inside the White House.

 

Our work of discernment requires pushing past persistent myths and into unchanging truths.  There are unintended negative consequences to always trying to keep everything on “the safe side,” which in some ways is actually the harmful side.  We want to learn the difference between smart protection and damaging overprotection.  Between being wise and being naïve.  Between choosing intelligently and succumbing to fear.

 

Before we dive in, I want you to consider one factor: There is a “spirit of the age” in this world that wants us to get this important work wrong.  It wants us befuddled and misdirected.  It’s an evil influence, as C.S. Lewis observed, that wants us to think the bow of our parenting boat is on fire, when all the while it’s the stern.  It wants us to think we’re being good parents as we rush to fight on a popular front…so it can attack us from the rear, where we aren’t looking.  It’s an insidious enticement to bite at easy answers that bring us short-term emotional comfort but no actual knowledge that will truly protect our children from harm.

 

It’s a mindset that, for example, has us thinking it’s the creepy-looking man in the trench coat who’s most likely to sexually abuse our daughters, when the facts have told us for decades that a perpetrator is far more likely to be a clean-shaven and “nice” male relative.  In pondering this deceptive spirit, instead of kicking at the darkness, let’s create some light instead, knowing, or at least considering, that there is a force opposing our good desire to love and safeguard our kids.  Parenting is best done by the wise and the shrewd.

 

Child safety advocate Gavin DeBecker has a clever acronym for “news”: Nothing Educational or Worth Seeing.  Treating television news like the R-rated material it is, he keeps a lid on it with his children.  DeBecker is far from naïve about the world, and, given his extensive work in the realm of child safety, my guess is his kids are better prepared for life than many, if not most.  He’s not trying to keep his kids from knowing about darkness.  To the contrary, he’s trying to keep their perception sharp and keen; he keeps television highly restricted because television, by its nature, distorts perception.  (Often not deliberate, but nevertheless true.)  TV news presents concentrated ugliness, strife, wickedness, and evil as the predominant mainstream of what’s actually happening.  A consistent diet of it produces a sensationalized, imbalanced sense of what’s going on around us.

 

Some parents want their young children to watch “the news,” thinking it will help them understand the “real world.”  Two main problems with this approach: (1) It doesn’t come close to presenting the “real world” to most anyone, and (2) it may well plant overarching fear into your child, creating the very kind of boy or girl that becomes a victim in the hands of adult predators and peer bullies.

 

When I ask on my talk show, “Have you seen a shooting in real life?” the only people who say yes are soldiers and police officers.  No civilian has yet to say yes, and very, very few have witnessed any such thing.  Yet violent, person-to-person gunfire events are teleported into our homes almost every times we turn on the news.  Disconnecting the TVs, or using them selectively, may be the most valuable and effective home security system you can install.

 

There is most likely no greater creator of warped perception (next to illicit drug use)  than television; turning it off is psychological protection for our kids.  If you let it, television will show them an unending reel of abductions, murders, exploitations, assaults, shootings, and bodies being wheeled out of homes.  One person’s ordeal becomes everybody’s brush with evil; as time passes, the child watching can come to feel he or she has personally experienced thousands of journeys into darkness, and with the trauma, whether perceived or not, comes victim-creating timidity and fearfulness.

 

Sandy and I did an experiment.  For an entire month we unplugged all electronic media in our home for our kids and ourselves.  No one could use a computer (except for work or homework).  No computer games, and no television unless we watched it together, usually no more than one hour.  When we did watch, we chose shows like America’s Funniest Home Videos, MythBusters, Dirty Jobs and Good Eats.

 

As you can imagine, there was a backlash at first, though it didn’t last as long as we expected.  We were all far more civil to each other even after just a few days.  Then, gradually, we were far more caring about each other.  We played games.  We swam.  Kicked a soccer ball around.  Read books.  We did more family activities, like going for walks and even grooming our dog for a change (he finally looked like someone loves him).  We had more fun together than we’d had in a long time.  Everyone was more peaceful, and we showed each other more grace.  It was obvious how much electronic entertainment had been coming between us.

 

Most experts agree: Restrict access to television (some say throw it away), and not just news, but everything that makes murder and gore and horror look commonplace.  TV violence has a disproportionate effect on aggressive children, and poor academic performance is also highly linked to the consumption of television violence.  Those who fail in school watch more TV, which isolates them from their peers and gives them less time to work for academic success.  The cycle of aggression, academic failure, social failure, and violence-viewing can be so tightly bound that it tragically perpetuates itself.

 

Intuition is a loaded word.  This is at least partly because so many of us mistake intuition for our own inclination.  Inclination primarily describes “a feeling that pushes somebody to make a particular choice or decision.”  Intuition is “the state of being aware of or knowing something without having to discover or perceive it, or the ability to do this.”

 

In preferring inclination over intuition, we’re often prone to forgo discernment and guidance (intuition) in favor of our default perspective and already established biases (inclination).  Intuition, though, can be a powerful compass reading that helps us find the sand-covered line we seek (between protection and overprotection).  Intuition can mean going with your gut sense in a way that helps you cut through the fog and choose wisely, even if you’re not sure why that insight occurred.  Intuition, sometimes, is clarity for unclear reasons.

 

Child safety experts agree that parents not only need to listen to intuition, they also need to sharpen it and remove obstacles in front of it.  Obstacles such as the belief that parents and children must always be polite even in a dangerous situation, or the idea that only “shady-looking” people abuse kids.  When the path for intuition is cleared, it’s a brilliant guide for parents who want to steer their children away from harm.

 

Let’s be clear.  Healthy people have healthy intuition.  If a parent’s mind is deluged by forces or motives that skew her understanding, then her intuition isn’t going to function clearly.  We can’t get clean water from contaminated wells.  Once a parent is in a place of not being able to rely on intuition, encouraging her to follow her intuition will probably send her further in the wrong direction, further from the perspective we really need as parents.  And when we’re unable to unwilling to see the truth, fear is often a primary culprit.

 

Next time:  When Fear Drives Lives

Paul Coughlin is the author of numerous books, including No More Christian Nice Guy and No More Jellyfish, Chickens or Wimps. He also co-authored a book for married couples with his wife Sandy, titled Married But Not Engaged. His articles appear in Focus on the Family magazine, and he as been interviewed by Dr. James Dobson, FamilyLife Radio, HomeWord, Newsweek, C-SPAN, The New York Times, and the 700 Club among others. Paul is founder of The Protectors, the faith-based answer to adolescent bullying, which provides curriculum for Sunday Schools, private schools, retreats, and individuals that trains people of faith to be sources of light in the theater of bullying. 

Visit Paul's websites at: http://www.theprotectors.org, and http://www.paulcoughlin.net

Visit Sandy's website for reluctant entertainers at: http://www.reluctantentertainer.com