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Data doesn't support raising kids in culture of fear

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The overall protective environment we have created for our kids impacts their sense of trying new things.

Are you aware that there is no case on record anywhere of a child being poisoned by Halloween candy? (I'll pause for a minute here so you can go google that. The only suspected case turned out to be the kid's father.)

FILE PHOTO - Dave WenzelAre you aware that about 100 kids are abducted by a stranger each year, but that about 600 die in car crashes with an additional 120,000 being injured?

It might be time to consider bringing a halt to raising our kids in an environment of fear. If you are someone who thinks it probably isn't safe to let your child play in the front yard, I am someone who isn't sure it is safe for them to visit your friends and relatives. (Child molestations occur by family members or friends in 80 percent of cases.)

If you are someone who thinks that eating Halloween candy procured door-to-door is unsafe (beyond the manufacturer's sugar and chemicals) I am someone who thinks you probably shouldn't take your child anywhere in the car (traveling in the car is way more dangerous.)

The point here is that data doesn't support the fearful environment many of our children are being raised in. Car seats and bike helmets make sense. Acting like a boogey man might be around the corner doesn't.

The overall protective environment we have created for our kids impacts their sense of trying new things. When working with children I'll often do an activity where we tell stories based on prompts that are on slips of paper in a jar. More often than not when the prompt comes up, "Are you brave?" kids will say no.

One of the odd things about parenting is that from the very beginning you are getting them ready to leave you. There is a target date out there when they will step out on their own, needing to face obstacles and problem solve. One employment recruiter has discovered that problem solving in college grads is down. They have all the knowledge and book learning, but lack creative problem solving skills. To address this they have added employment questions regarding the nature of the applicants play as a child.

What should you do?

I'll keep it as simple as possible.

Create physical space: The average child has somewhere between 150-200 toys. Less is more here. Stop buying toys that "play for them," or entertain them. Throw out half of what you have. My son David used to love to go to Home Depot with me. He would scan the floor, crawl between shelving and pick up all the hardware type things that he found interesting and that had dropped and not been cleaned up yet. He would get quite the box full of interesting stuff and then come home and glue it all together into an interesting sculpture. The toys I bought sat in the closet.

Create time space: Free play time for 6-8 year olds is down 25 percent. Homework time is up 100 percent. Look over your schedule. How many extra curricular activities does your family have going?

Limit them to one sport or activity at a time. Make sure there is "dead space" in the schedule. Time for them to be bored. Being bored and figuring out what to do is a developmental task. Let them go outside and try to build a tree house. Don't rob them of boredom.

Leave them alone: Sure, read to them and play with them, but if they are bored don't solve the problem for them. You might offer the resources for creativity for them, but don't do their school art work, don't ghost write their papers, don't polish up their science report.

Don't instill fear: Encourage and use warranted precautions (aforementioned car seats and helmets). Don't add trouble where it doesn't exist. This may mean you have to limit your own morning news feed so that you are reading stories about a child abducted. Let your child take risks and give them the gift of "I think you can probably do that. Give it a try!"

Longtime Sandy resident Dr. Dave Wenzel is a parent, a professor of counseling and a Licensed Professional Counselor. He works with children, individuals, families and couples. His office, River Ridge Counseling, is located in Sandy. He may be reached at 503-803-0444 or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..