Kyle C. Averill, MEd, is the Director of the Inova Kellar School, a therapeutic education program serving students in grades 3 through 12.
As parents, one of our goals is to keep our children safe. We want to guide and support them as they grow, nurturing them to become happy, healthy, capable, independent adults – but none of that can happen unless we first keep them safe. But what does “keeping them safe” entail? What should we as parents be thinking about when it comes to our children’s safety?
Although a lot of distinctions can be drawn about different levels of safety, at a minimum, there are two broad categories: emotional safety and physical safety.
Emotional safety: engagement is key
To promote emotional safety, engage with your child from a young age. (If your children are already school-age or older, it’s never too late. Start today.) Engagement means not just being physically present, but understanding, learning, and supporting your child’s unique emotional life. Here are some guidelines to help:
- Understand prominent influences in your child’s life. From YouTube personalities and celebrities to friends, teachers, and activities, it’s smart to learn about what your child cares about.
- Help your kids understand how to set healthy boundaries. Boundaries are a set of limits that define what a person is and isn’t willing to accept. You can help your child find those lines to determine what behaviors are and are not “okay” as they relate to their peers and navigate social complexities.
- Participate – sometimes, engaging with your child requires your active participation in activities that you don’t want to do or even understand. Why is putting a silly Snapchat filter on a video fun? Who knows, but your child will appreciate your effort.
Regular, consistent engagement helps your child build a foundation of emotional safety. By doing so, you are helping them build functional skills they’ll need in college and as young adults.
Navigating emotional safety and electronics
Electronics and social media deserve particular mention. You may not be aware or comfortable with what your child is seeing online. Emotional safety with electronics requires a lot of parental presence. We can’t guide our children if we don’t know what’s going on. It also requires us as adults to adjust our thresholds of what we’re comfortable with, technologically and emotionally.
We can’t control the next new social media trend that all the kids will gravitate toward. But the question is, would you rather know about your kid’s social media accounts or not? A little parental embarrassment is a small price to pay to guard our children’s emotional safety.
Physical safety – slowly loosening the reins
When it comes to physical safety, today’s parents are keeping kids under closer watch than ever. I don’t know anyone who lets kids go outside wherever they want without some guardrails. For better or worse, that’s where we as a culture are today.
But we also know that giving our kids more freedom is key to fostering their independence. After all, your child has to learn how to cross the street alone at some point. Technology can be a real help here. For parents used to keeping a watchful eye on their children, sharing your child’s cell phone location gives you a measure of peace of mind. It allows your child to have more autonomy.
With that autonomy, children may make some mistakes, it’s true. But they will also develop situational awareness and critical thinking skills – not to mention confidence – by doing more things for themselves. Finding ways to let go of that fear and release the physical control over your children is, paradoxically, an important part of keeping them safe over the long term.
For Inova child and adolescent behavioral health outpatient services, call The Inova Kellar Center at 703-218-8500. For inpatient adolescent behavioral health services, or adult mental health and substance use services (both inpatient and outpatient), call 703-289-7560.
Inova Kellar Center provides a full continuum of outpatient services and programs including individual, family and group therapy; medication management; psychiatric evaluations; psychological testing; intensive outpatient programs; and partial hospitalization programs.