Wednesday, May 6, 2015

What everyone missed about stranger abductions: natural boundaries

I've been reading both sides since the "stranger abduction experiment" video went viral. I was sad to see more pleas for anxiety and helicopter parenting. But, I was also disappointed with much of the response from the free range community, too.

One article on the free range website attempted to claim the children were taken easily since the man talked to the parents and the children thought it was a safe situation. Well, of course! That's called grooming and it's not a defense for free range parenting, it's a very serious and commonly used technique to break down natural boundaries in children and gain control of them. I wonder if the person who wrote that free range article even knew this?

Here's a thought no one wants to discuss. It's not politically correct, and most people would rather choose to feel offended by this thought instead of delving deeper. It doesn't apply to EVERY SINGLE child out there, but in general, it holds true.

Those young children walked off with the man and his puppy because they aren't attached to primary caregivers and their natural boundaries have been broken down repeatedly from infancy onwards. They are used to random adults invading their private space and telling them what to do, including taking their hands and walking somewhere.

They have been trained from a young age that any adult who is kind to them and who pays attention to them is an adult who deserves their compliance and who is automatically supposed to care for them. They have been taught by their parents and surrounding adult community that adults require unquestioning obedience and that feelings of doubt, unhappiness, fear, or sadness are invalid, and should be ignored.

This is why, for example, when I'm engaged with my children at the playground or pool, random young children approach me and ask me to take them to the bathroom, or expect me to play with them. One smiling adult is the same as the next in their world.

The abductions on that video didn't have anything to do with the man talking to the mom first. Which a "predator" (acquaintance or stranger) could easily do anyways. This didn't have anything to do with poor parenting method. Whether teaching stranger danger or tricky people awareness, whichever method you prefer, the innate issue here is a lack of boundaries in the children. (I prefer the tricky people one, and encourage you to learn more about it, by the way.)

When you look at children who are attached to a primary caregiver, who do not go to daycare, nor preschool, and who do not experience frequent babysitting/multiple babysitters, etc, those children tend to turn away from a random adult. Children who have their sense of identity, their emotions, and their needs affirmed on a daily basis have very little tolerance for random stranger attention. As babies and toddlers, they refuse to be held by other adults, even relatives. They'll often refuse to wave hello, or lean their bodies away if the adult gets too close and crosses a naturally ingrained boundary.

And when these children are a bit older, they show more caution and hesitation to adults who approach them. They aren't quick to share their life stories, and they often question why an adult is interested in them and why the adult wants them to do things or go places.

These children have retained natural boundaries. Sadly, it often causes other adults to ridicule them or to feel offended and demand intervention from the parents. If the baby leans away from a relative at a party, others might attack the mom, or claim the baby is a wuss and needs more alone time with other adults. "You pick him up too much." "She needs to start respecting her elders." "I think it's the homeschooling!" Many people in our culture have very little tolerance when it comes to the natural boundaries and feelings of children.

But, this natural caution is exactly what might prevent the scenario in the viral video. It's also what might encourage the parent to continue staying by the child's side throughout early childhood, preventing abuse of all kinds and being the child's advocate.

Interestingly, this favored attachment tends to dissipate around age 7/8, at the end of the early childhood stage and at a time when the child is better able to verbalize issues along with making more complex critical thinking decisions.

So, while the fights rage on, with each side trying to dismiss the other as wrong...I'd like to give some food for thought. Children ages 6 and under who remain attached to responsive primary caregivers are children who develop a natural sense of self, of belonging, of basic boundaries.

Ways to sustain natural boundaries in children

1. Validate feelings. When a child expresses feelings, especially negative emotions such as fear and anger, acknowledge them. For references, check out this post and this post.

2. Respect your child's no. Although you must still be the firm and guiding parent, take care to repect your child's heartfelt no as often as possible, especially in areas such as personal expression and bodily autonomy. See more here.

3. Model healthy boundaries. If you are struggling to overcome empath difficulties, or have childhood abuse scripts, work on them to provide healthier role modeling for your children. Allow your children to see healthy relationships and to see how you set down boundaries with other people.

4. Develop healthy social skills. Instead of breaking down natural boundaries, spend time every day developing healthy social skills that emphasize personal property, bodily autonomy, emotional respect, and other healthy behaviors. Just the other day, to use an example, I watched a 3-4 year old boy happily sucking on his lollipop at the playground. Another tot about the same size ran up to him and wrestled the lollipop away, then ran off to eat it. The mom of the original boy, instead of working through the altercation, told her little boy to stop crying, and that it was ok, and she was too meek to do anything! That little boy learned a rough lesson, one that would probably continue to shape him for the rest of his life. This ties into #3: work through your boundary difficulties so that you can help your children!

5. When your child cannot protect her boundaries, step in to protect them for her. This is what parenting is all about right here. When someone is invading her personal space and she is scared speechless, say something. When someone is making your son uncomfortable and he is unsure what to do, step in and offer options. With your voice, your posture, and your parenting rules, you set the tone for others and you affirm your child.

6. And FFS! Please stop forcing children to be held by someone, touched by someone, or to even stand by someone when they are uncomfortable and even scared. Steamrolling over a child's natural boundaries for a photo or to please another person sends a clear message to the child: his needs don't matter. To then try to teach him to pay attention to his instincts and to stay away from a stranger is a fruitless endeavor.

One person is missing here, because she doesn't like
characters. Is it really worth the pain and behavior modeling
just to get a photo of your child next to a scary looking character?

Learn more about grooming here:

For those who are moving away from the anxiety/fear path of stranger danger, I highly recommend Gavin DeBecker's book. He blows up a lot of myths and encourages parents to return to their original instincts and boundaries:

View the original video behind the controversy here:

No comments:

Post a Comment