Why People Are Falling into the Grand Canyon: A plea for common sense parenting

You’ve all seen them, the kids that can’t listen, can’t stand still for a nanosecond, can’t follow the rules their parents scream down the grocery aisle.

“Don’t take one more step or I’ll….”

Those same kids have grown up and are falling into the Grand Canyon, for real.

When I first began reading news stories about the recent deaths at this and other picturesque locations, my first reaction was horror and sadness. Because I’m a nice human who cares about all life, even reckless ones.

But then I started to think about the absurdity. The news headlines made it sound like the Grand Canyon had just been discovered and people didn’t know what to do with it.

“How do we keep people from falling into such a giant hole?”

Well, it’s called common sense, and it should ideally stem from common sense parenting.

Photo by Alexandre Godreau on Unsplash

From Authoritarian to Permissive Parenting

Many of us that grew up in the 80s and 90s had authoritarian parents. They were the parents who said helpful things like “Do it because I said so!” or would take a belt to our backsides if we were heard more than seen.

My parents were loving and involved, but they were also quite strict. At times I felt like a little robot in robot school.

Not surprisingly, many kids from my generation grew up to be permissive parents, the ones who say things like, “Let’s let the kid decide what he wants to eat for dinner” or “Kids don’t need structure or bedtimes, they really need their freedom.”

We let the pendulum swing all the way to the other end. Because the authoritarian parenting we experienced didn’t feel loving. Most of all we want our kids to feel loved. And love is a worthy desire.

Unfortunately, we have thrown the baby out with the bathwater. And now the baby is falling into big holes because it can’t follow basic instructions printed on large signs by people in authority.

Let’s just be clear about it — these are obviously dangerous places like cliffside lookouts. Second, there are often signs posted for people who are completelyunaware of their surroundings . Third, when we enter a national park or a hiking trail, we are guests. There are rules. And those rules aren’t meant to rob us of enjoyment. They are there to keep us out of the big holes.

I realize I am making some leaps here between parenting and unruly adults. And increased news reporting and media availability make us much more aware of tragedies. But living in Hawaii, full of tourists and adventure opportunities, I see this behavior all the time. I see people crossing obvious safety barriers for a closer look at a 300 foot sheer cliff, or turning their backs to record-breaking waves for selfies. And I call it like I see it to my own children — “That’s dumb.”

A 2018 medical study in the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care chronicles the rising number of worldwide “selfie deaths” that reveal the height of ignorance of this generation, a generation equally bright and creative and capable as any before it.

Any yet there is a sense of entitlement that says, “I get to be where I want, when I want, and I don’t care what the risk is. No one gets to say ‘No’ to me.”

Have you ever seen this same sense of entitlement in a tiny person?

I see it every day. There is a little war going on in our house between the big people and little people. Because the little people long to rule themselves. And they don’t have the maturity or wisdom yet to do that. There’s a reason they were given awesome parents like us to love and nurture them. They need time to grow their frontal lobes and learn to make rational decisions.

Parenting With One Eye on the Future

We do our best to give our kids plenty of love and freedom to roam in safe places, to ride bikes, and explore. But we also say “No” regularly. Because “No” is an important boundary to learn. It means, “This is something you actually cannot do, no matter how much you want to.”

We say it because we love them.

Clinical psychologist Dr. Henry Cloud says it this way, “We parent in the present without thinking about the future. We usually deal with the problems at hand. But one goal of parenting is to keep an eye on the future. We are raising our children to be responsible adults.”

And, as the mother of three girls, I hope they are learning that they should use that “No” word on other people too. I hope they learn that they are valuable enough to put boundaries on their own bodies and time and resources.

We all need boundaries in life to keep us safe, to give us the freedom to have fun without paying steep consequences. And we need smarter and wiser people in our lives who love us enough to say, “There’s the cliff edge (proverbial or real). Don’t go too close.”

As parents, it starts with us. We are the best people to teach limits to our small people because we love them the most. They may hate the rules and pretend to hate us, but our genuine care for their wellbeing will turn into deep love and appreciation, if not now then later, when those frontal lobes come in.

Don’t be afraid to set loving limits on your kids. Loving limits look very different from authoritarian parenting. They don’t have to be harsh or unreasonable. But they do have to be there.

My kids have often been the ones who couldn’t listen, couldn’t sit still for a nanosecond, or tuned out my hollering voice. They’re kids after all and they’re in progress. So I’m not advocating for parent shaming or feeling guilt over kids that don’t always mind their manners. I’m calling for a return to common sense parenting, where parents act like, well, the adults in the relationship. And kids get the privilege of being taught how to be wise adults one day.

If you want more information about setting calm, loving limits, I highly recommend any of the Love and Logic parenting series (https://www.loveandlogic.com) or the book “Boundaries for Kids” (https://www.boundariesbooks.com).

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