Question: There's so much on the news about child abductions, murders, etc. that I often find myself in a panic when it comes to my tween girls. How can I overcome the urge to just lock them in their rooms until they reach adulthood?
Jim: We hear so much bad news today that we often feel like there's danger lurking everywhere. A survey by the Mayo Clinic revealed that these are the five things parents are most worried about: 1)kidnapping; 2)school snipers; 3)terrorists; 4)dangerous strangers; and 5)drugs.
Those things certainly are scary. But now consider the five things that, in reality, are the most likely to cause death to children under the age of eighteen, according to the Centers for Disease Control: 1)car accidents; 2)homicide -- usually at the hands of someone they know; 3)child abuse; 4)suicide; and 5)drowning.
These are frightening, too, but they probably aren't the first things that come to mind when you worry about your girls. As The New York Times has observed, there's a disconnect going on here. In the age of 24-hour news, we hear horrible stories of abductions and school shooters, but the fact is that in the grand scheme of things, those things are rare -- they are the worst-case scenarios. Thank goodness!
Statistically, the least-safe thing we can do with our kids is drive them somewhere. And yet most of us do that every day. According to Christie Barnes, author of "The Paranoid Parents Guide," moms and dads are worrying more at a time when statistics for homicide, kidnapping and even traffic deaths are actually going down.
Certainly, there are dangers out there. And even if some of them are rare, we don't want our kids to be that one exception to the rule. We need to take the appropriate measures to protect them. But we also need to be careful not to be overly fearful for their safety. That can be paralyzing. It's all about finding the proper balance.
Question: Our daughter is 14 and wants to do group dates. Is that appropriate for a 14-year-old, and when would you recommend single or group dating?
Juli: As you wrestle through decisions regarding your daughter and dating, I'd encourage you to consider a few questions. First, what do you mean by "group dating"? There's a big difference between a group of 14-year-olds going to Denny's for pancakes after the school play and teens hanging out in someone's basement unsupervised. In my opinion, any mixed-gender interaction among 14-year-olds should be supervised by adults. Even the most levelheaded 14-year-old is not mature enough to handle the emotional and physical pressures that come with an exclusive dating relationship or with unsupervised contact with the opposite sex.
Every parent will have a different opinion about the magic age when his or her daughter is ready to date, whether alone or in a group. Wise parents might even have a different answer for different children, as some mature more quickly than others. Whatever age you decide to let your daughter date, prepare her for it.
Think about it this way: Many states require 50 or more supervised hours behind the wheel, plus a written and driving test before issuing a driver's license to a teenager. Why don't we have a similar approach to dating? Observe your daughter in mixed-gender situations. How does she behave with the opposite sex? Have you talked to her about what to do if she gets into a compromising situation? Has she shared with you why she wants to date and what her standards are? Have you considered your role in helping her screen potential boyfriends and in supervising dating relationships?
Dating can be a wonderful aspect of teen life, but it is also fraught with serious dangers. Treat it that way!
Dr. Juli Slattery is a licensed psychologist, co-host of Focus on the Family, author of several books, and a wife and mother of three.
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