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Warning: Choking Hazard

It is dangerous to be a child in this day and age.  A lot of things have changed since you were there… especially the predators.  They have to change – those things that prey on the young – because down through history parents have been great at taking care of pretty much anything that threatened the safety and welfare of their children.  Like childhood diseases.  We hardly give them a thought anymore, except to try to keep up with current inoculations.  And as for wild things sneaking into the cave at night to see what they can haul off…

Well, most of us don't live in caves anymore, either.  But the rapid advance of our modern lifestyles and conveniences have brought along complacencies that are largely dependant on the false sense of securities we have built up for ourselves.  Phrases like, "Kids grow up faster these days – they're tougher," are substantiated by the advent of the Information Age, which makes anything and everything available at the turn of a switch to anyone and everyone.  Including children. 

But it isn't the children who have changed… only the times.

A toddler will put a small mysterious object in the mouth to test what it might be, just as quickly today as one would two thousand years ago.  And a teenager will pledge allegiance to a friend over family just as quickly as one would back in the middle ages.  Times change.  People don't.  The only difference is, that parents today satisfy themselves with the fact that they have adequately paid someone (preferably professionals) to watch over their toddlers throughout the day while they are at work, or that their errant teens are only responding (quite naturally) to what is now referred to as "the rebellious years."  But to think that others can take the place of a parent – no matter how well paid – is a fallacy only our modern times have fallen prey to.  That's because there is no eye like the watchful eye of a parent.

No one knows a child better than a parent, and no one can reach that child better than a parent.  Why is that so?  Because children are made in the image of their parents.  That's the nature of things.  Humans come with the incredible power to "create in their own image," and they do – and are continuing to do so – every day of the year.  For better or for worse.  "In his image created he, him.  Male and female, created he them."  And we are continuing to do that, every day of our lives.  But the truth is, the changing times are affecting the parents as much as the children, these days.  We – like the children – tend to believe everything we see in print, or hear on TV.  Never in all of history has the individual opinion been so far down on society's "priority list."  What does the doctor have to say?  What does the school recommend?  And what did they say in that latest pole taken by CNN?

Our children are like ourselves.  That's why we are so attached to them when they first come along.  Add to that the fact that one spends nearly every waking hour with them when they first arrive, it's no wonder we know so exactly what "makes them tick." Any mysteries we run into can usually be answered by a spouse who recognizes the off-beat characteristic from his or her side of the family.  Family traits and tastes perpetuate themselves.  But it is interesting to note that most problems faced by today's families are brought on by the subtle process of becoming "de-sensitized" from these natural things.  A process that happens almost subconsciously.

It happens because today's parents are spending less and less time with their children.  It started off years ago, when moms left for the working world, but it has carried on much farther since then.  And for reasons which hardly sound threatening at all.  There is simply more for parents and children to do separately these days.  Sports, entertainment, and social activities for respective age groups are mostly what keep people busy outside the family circle.  Add to this the advent of microwave cooking, and family members don't even have to keep the same mealtimes when they are all on different schedules. 

So, does this mean we should go back to the "way things were in the good old days?"  No, it just means we have to adjust the changes to meet the needs of today's families.  Because the truth is, most of us like the progression, or we would have stopped it a long time ago.  But in order to do this, we need to take a closer look at those changes.

Most of the problems encountered in our modern lifestyles can be linked back to one major oversight… nobody is watching the children anymore.  Not because we don't care.  It just isn't entirely necessary.  That's because – for the most part – we have traded this old-fashioned pastime for providing them with something to watch or be occupied with, themselves.  Which frees up busy parents and daycare workers to the point that only "half an eye" is needed to keep things running smoothly.  As children grow older, one doesn't even need that.  But the new method has long-term side effects.

Over a period of time, it has a tendency to "desensitize" both the parent and the child.  After awhile it becomes more and more difficult to pick up on each other's personality and habits enough to be able to detect – much less predict – what they are really up to.  Which doesn't matter too much as long as everyone is behaving.  It's when they're not that misunderstandings begin to flare at alarming rates.  Which also have a tendency to go hand-in-hand with a lack of communication.  Angry outbursts, hurt feelings, and misbehavior patterns that seem to hang on no matter what is tried, are often the result of these.

While most parents are aware of the choking hazards that threaten toddlers (and take care to prevent those incidents from occurring) not many realize that there are similar hazards that an older child can "choke on" later on, that could have been prevented by the same kind of watchfulness.  The standard rule of not letting them take "too much too fast" applies just as well to a teenager as it does for a tot… they're just dabbling in different things.  In the same way, the old rhyme that a "stitch in time will save nine," is true.  And whoever came up with the philosophy that "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," was nearing the pinnacles of wisdom when it comes to avoiding catastrophes.  The real secret to avoiding pitfalls in any society – including our own -- is still to learn how to recognize warning signs and do something about them before things happen

Here's a list of things that will help:


¨      FIND OUT SPECIFICALLY WHAT YOUR KIDS ARE DOING.  Vague generalities like, "Just playing outside," or "At a friend's house," could include activities such as starting fires or watching R-rated movies.  So before you answer with an equally vague, "That's nice, dear," it might be important to find out exactly what they were playing, and who's house they were in.


¨      DON'T ALLOW SECRETS.  Unless it's a holiday where presents are exchanged, children should not be keeping secrets from their parents.  Nor should they be allowed to keep parents out of their room if they so choose.  It's one thing to give a courteous knock on a closed door before entering, but any child who knows a parent can and will move freely in and out of their room, will not only be careful of what they keep there, they will also be careful how they behave there.


¨      DON'T LET FEELINGS OVERRIDE YOUR FAMILY'S STANDARD OF CONDUCT.  Being tired, or angry, or not feeling well, is no excuse for bad behavior.  You can be sympathetic toward these conditions (and even ward off an incident if you see them coming beforehand) but never withhold correction because of them.  Nurturing self-control has many more benefits than nurturing selfishness.


¨      WATCH OUT FOR THE SAMLL STUFF.  Do you detect a hint of disrespect in a response, or a lack of cooperation in trying to get along?  Better to deal with these things immediately, because – like weeds – they are much harder to get rid of later on.


¨      MAKE A BIG DEAL OUT OF THE MAJOR STUFF.  Violence, stealing, smoking or experimenting with drugs and pre-marital sex, are extremely serious offenses… and they deserve extremely serious consequences.  Extending periods of "time out" or "being grounded" is not enough.  These behaviors call for a form of restitution and – in some cases – even a complete change of environment and peer involvement.  If you don't, society will do it for you sooner or later, and the end results can be much more devastating than it would have been coming from you.  Take these matters too lightly, and your children will, too.


¨      PROVIDE ACCEPTABLE OUTLETS FOR ENERGY AND ASPIRATIONS.  Many problem behaviors stem from a lack of supervision coupled with boredom.  It is better for children to be involved in too much than too little, and a structured activity beats long hours with nothing to do but the "same old things."


¨      BE PHYSICAL.  Touch, hug, and play with your children often.  These are natural "barometers" for true feelings, and will delight them no matter how old they are. This kind of interaction can also defuse bad attitudes faster than a lecture… sort of like turning a light on in a dark room.


Today's predators are more subtle than those we find in history.  They are poisonous messages smuggled in through mixed media that undermines the values of family living.  They are the ability of your children to keep bad company for long periods of time before you realize it, and then resent you for taking them away.  They are the natural wonders of nature pushed so far back from our modern cities that few children can discover it for themselves, anymore.  They are too many things in exchange for a sense of value. 

Taken all together over extended periods, these subtle enemies have the power to choke the life out of normal healthy children and leave them weakened in many ways.  But they are no match for a normal healthy parent who knows how to handle them and what to watch out for. You do it by making yourself more aware of what you are really giving to your children.  And if you should discover a "warning: choking hazard" sign on one of those things…

Don't buy it.


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