Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The mouths that roar

1 Samuel 2:3 (NIV)

“Do not keep talking so proudly
   or let your mouth speak such arrogance,
for the Lord is a God who knows,
   and by him deeds are weighed. …”
My kids like to talk. To us, to each other, to family and friends. And, unfortunately, to complete strangers. Well, that ought to be clarified. When a complete stranger addresses one of the older two — or even someone we know well but they don’t quite recognize — they’re more than likely to clam up. But if the boys have an itch to start a conversation, or simply state a fact, chances are they’ll find anyone with a working set of ears.

The habit has been evident for a while now, but with our recent outings to the local theme park it’s given me cause for added concern. As is the norm at theme parks, we tend to spend a lot of time in line, generally surrounded by people we don’t know. The kids, presuming everyone is there for a good time, are prone to making small talk.

Sometimes they can’t contain their excitement over a ride they just finished. Sometimes they feel compelled to share their experience on an attraction the other person has ridden dozens of times. Sometimes they just want to show off something, such as a watch or new shoes. Usually the other party is polite, occasionally engaging. I try to stay as close as possible to intervene before anything develops, but I know I can’t watch them always and everywhere.

I want them to be safe. I know it’s not especially wise to trust strangers, and clearly they need to be consistently reminded about guarding their possessions and their privacy. But I also want to care about other people — even people they don’t know. I worry about the ill effects of being overprotective or sheltering, that it might somehow lead to them seeing the world with blinders on, generally ignoring the presence of others and using safety as an excuse for insolence.

Like so many things in life, this probably is a case of fine lines. It is possible to be polite to the people who scan our passes, serve our food and operate the rides — even addressing them by the names they wear on their uniforms. But that does not mean we need to invite conversations with the 40-year-olds in front of us in line when they are nonverbally communicating they’d rather not chat up a third-grader. Some of this will be resolved as the kids mature and grow in their ability to read social cue. Some of it will be trial and error, ideally with the watchful influence of a parent who is close at hand to provide security and encourage learning from experience.

In the big picture, I feel this is something we can handle with consistent involvement and dialogue with the kids. The younger children are likely to emulate the behavior of the older ones, so it’s important for us to help Jack set a good example. So far we’ve had quite a fun summer, and it looks to continue. But as parents, we can’t let our comfort with the theme park lead to lowering our guard. We must be as vigilant as we were on our first visit.

Done right, this summer can be an irreplaceable learning experience and actually help the boys grow in independence and self-reliance, all with the safety net of mom and dad. But that won’t be the case unless we set out to make it so. At least the job is evident, now I just have to rise up and meet the challenge.

A prayer for June 18:

Lord, please help me keep my children safe. I know protecting them from harm is part of my job, but so is teaching them to one day be on their own. Open my eyes to moments where I might educate them about the world, give me the tools I need to communicate with them effectively. Help us learn together about boundaries, respect and responsibility. Lead us in love, that we may in turn be lights of your love in the world. Amen.

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