“I’m Just Trying to Keep You Safe”
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When you hear the word safe, most of us automatically think of something to prevent injury. Being a mom of a very adventurous toddler with no fear, I find myself often using the phrase, “Mama just wants to keep you safe.” Of course this is during an intense temper tantrum because she can’t climb on whatever makeshift ladder she has created from various objects, but I still let her know I love her and I have her best interest at heart. I know as she gets older, that phrase will still be a frequent part of my conversations with her but it will hold more significant meaning.
As a caregiver of a child, regardless of age, their safety is generally the number one concern. The same goes for teachers, youth leaders, community volunteers, childcare providers, pastors, and anyone who has any sort of responsibility with youth. When it comes to middle-school youth, the safety concerns begin to be less about falling and breaking bones. Youth are now introduced to new friends, new experiences, and new substances. They feel as if they have something to prove, they’re trying to fit in, and some just flat out experiment.
Once they reach this stage in their lives, how do we continue to keep them safe?
We aren’t watching their every move, they’re involved in activities with friends we don’t know, and the last thing they want to do is open up to whoever is responsible for them. In EYFP we introduce youth participants to tools they can use for avoiding risky behaviors and situations. It’s important that they understand how hard it can be to tell your best friend no if they’re pressuring you. They need to grasp the idea of going beyond saying “no”. One of our favorite activities is getting the families to role play scenarios that really put their skills to the test.
It’s important to realize this responsibility of staying safe isn’t just falling on the child as they get older. As adults, it’s our responsibility to be able to read their emotions and body language. It’s our responsibility to establish clear boundaries and make sure the consequences for disrespecting those boundaries are understood. Boundaries, expectations, and clear communication become the new safety gates and cabinet locks. The skinned knees and scrapes from experimenting with an adventurous climb turn into overdoses from experimenting with leftover pills a friend found in mom’s bathroom drawer. Will they get tired of hearing “I’m just trying to keep you safe?” Yes! According to Ed Cooke, British author, entrepreneur, and renowned Grand Master of Memory, you’ve got to actively recall the memory 30 times before it becomes recognized in the brain. Just keep that tidbit in mind the next time you get the glorious eye roll along with the mumbled “yeah, I know. I’ve heard that before.” Repetition is the key to getting something in our heads no matter how old we are.