Should you shelter from or expose children to the world?

Should you shelter from or expose children to the world?

Parenting, although extremely rewarding, might be one of the most challenging roles that I have ever had.  The idea that I am responsible for bringing a life into the world and giving her the tools to grow into an independent, successful human being overwhelms me.  As she grows I find myself struggling to let go and give her the freedom to find her own way.  Whether you have been in this position, or will be in it soon, you’ve probably asked yourself “should you shelter from or expose children to the world?”

I go back and forth with this in my mind as my almost nine year old continues to gain independence.  I’ve spent these last eight years protecting her, caring for her, loving her.  I am fearful to let her go, but understand that I need to let her experience the world.  Where is the balance between sheltering my child from the negativity in the world and encouraging independence?

Should you shelter from or expose children to the world? Finding the balance between protecting your child and encouraging independence.

Arguing both sides:  to shelter vs. to expose

As a parent, there will be times when you are faced with the decision of whether or not to protect your child from reality or teach them about the real world.  There is lots of information out there about what to do when faced with these situations.  The fact of the matter is, ultimately you need to make the decision that is best for you and your child.  There is no formula, rulebook, or set of guidelines that you can read to find the answers.  Sure you can take advice from others, but no matter what you need to go with your gut and do what you think is right.

Weighing your options.  When a situation presents itself in which your child is exposed to something new, you have the option of telling your child the whole truth, or sugarcoating it.  Whichever route you choose to go, there will be consequences.  Its important to think about these consequences when making your decision.  Sheltering your child may be a temporary fix, which could be a good or a bad thing.  Exposing your child to some of the negativity in the world might cause immediate consequences, but that will go away with time.

Should you shelter from or expose children to the world? Finding the balance between protecting your children and showing them the real world.

To shelter and protect

The world can be a scary place.  Why would you want to let your children go out into a world where they are exposed to such negativity?  As a mom to a young girl, I am very fearful of the negativity surrounding women in our society.  I don’t want her to compare her appearance to super models or celebrities in the media.  I don’t want her to think that she has to act a certain way to get boys to like her.  I want her to stay young, innocent, and naive forever.  What’s wrong with that?

Here’s what is wrong:  I can’t control what she will be exposed to in her lifetime.  I am not with her and her friends when they are playing on the playground.  I can’t control the commercials on tv or the magazines that are in your face in the grocery store checkout line.  Its just not possible.

The PROS of sheltering your child:

-they are unaware of negativity in the world

-they won’t feel pressure to act or think a certain way

-they can develop their own ideas and opinions without outside influence

-they can develop their own personality

-they do not have to be as fearful of the world, less stress

The CONS of sheltering your child:

-they will see, hear, or experience things that they are not prepared for

-they will depend on you rather than have their own skills or ideas

-they may not know how to handle stressful situations

-they may get upset with you when they find that you kept the truth from them

Should you shelter from or expose children to the world? Parenting challenges that we all must face.

To expose and educate

As a parent, there is nothing worse than the thought of something or someone hurting your child.  The sad reality is, the more independence your child gains, the more likely they are to be exposed to these potentially harmful things.  Unfortunately we live in a world where people harm each other, and even harm children.  We have to lock our doors, learn about stranger danger, have drills in schools for fires, earthquakes, and intruders, and have all of the pressures of social media and technology that are ever increasing.  We would like to think that when our children are at school they are safe.  We know that safety is not guaranteed anymore.  How to we send our children out into a potentially dangerous world?

Well, we have to.  We have to let our children live.  Isn’t our job as parents to give our kids all the tools they need to grow into independent adults?  Is it scary to let go?  Absolutely!  Its just not an option to keep our little ones little forever.  When they are young, there are things you can definitely control.  It is up to you how you want to expose your children to the world and all that it has to offer, both good and bad.

The PROS of exposing children to reality:

-they will know the truth

-they can prepare for challenges that may arise

-they can form their own opinions

-they can gain independence

-they can get advice or ask for help

The CONS of exposing children to reality:

-they might be scared or fearful

-they might experience more stress

-they might be forced to make mature decisions

-they might see or hear negative things

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“There are two gifts we should give our children:  one is roots, and the other is wings.”

For me, this quote represents what I believe and aspire to create for my daughter.  Even though I struggle with letting go, I want my daughter to go out into the world and not be fearful of it.  I want her to be confident, independent, and fearless when she walks out the door, but to know that I am always here for her when she needs me.  I try to always do the following:

  1. Keep communication open
  2. Monitor what she watches on tv and sees through the media
  3. Teach her how to be safe in dangerous situations
  4. Instilling core values

As you can see, I don’t have all the answers.  Nobody does.  I’m just a mom trying to figure it out as I go and do whats best for my child.  Above all else, as parents we have to do what we think is best for our children.  Do what feels right, not what is easy.  Sometimes the best decisions are the hardest ones to make.

Please feel free to share your thoughts and suggestions for finding that balance between sheltering your children and exposing them to the world.  I always enjoy hearing other perspectives and suggestions from others.  

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  • I don’t have any children yet, but I worry a lot about what I will do in these situations! Being a parent seems so tough, with all these decisions to make. It seems like you care a lot about your daughter and that’s most important! Not that I know much (or anything) about parenting, but it seems like that makes all the difference 🙂

    • Thanks Annie. I think you are right about the importance of caring for your child. At the end of the day what matters most is that you are there for them.

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  • Morgan Wieboldt

    Such an interesting topic, one tht we’ve talked about a bit recently in our house. I think sheltering children is a big problem these days – yes, there are somethings that kids don’t NEED to know and shouldn’t have to be exposed to, but other things I think you’re actually putting your kids at a disadvantage by NOT exposing them to it.

    • Thanks for your comment Morgan. I appreciate your feedback and agree. We don’t ever want our children at a disadvantage in life. We want to do what is best for them which is why its difficult to find that balance between shelter and exposure.

  • I can’t imagine how difficult parenting must be – thank goodness my mom was fabulous. I imagine that it would be difficult to find the line between exposure and shelter, but I definitely agree with your ppint on instilling core values!! I really enjoyed this post 🙂

    • Thank you Mattie. Parenting is very difficult– but worth all of the worrying and stress that comes with it! I’m happy you have a fabulous Mom who was able to guide you along the way.