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01/18/2010

Protecting or Overprotecting Our Kids?

IMG_4738 My five year old daughter is a beautiful girl. No, I'm not trying to brag here -- she really is pretty, and even if I didn't believe it, I have the testimony of countless strangers who choose to tell us when we're out in public. Everyone, from little grandmotherly-types to other parents to teens, stops us to comment on her appearance or ask if she models. During parent-teacher conferences, her teacher even took a significant chunk of our time to tell us how pretty she is and compliment her fashion sense. (Which I guess is my fashion sense, considering I still choose her clothing.)

It's enough to make any mother feel...proud? No, more like creeped out.

And because of these comments, I'm also extra cautious when we are out in public. I've read the news stories about little girls being abducted, and I've seen so many heartbreaking endings to those stories. Just last week a man attempted to kidnap two girls in Powell. Thankfully, the girls got away, but that man is still out there somewhere, perhaps planning to try again.

This may be Ohio, but that doesn't mean our kids are necessarily safer here. As a child, I was nearly abducted in my small town while walking home from the pool. I remember that terrifying experience vividly.

I know I can't keep my daughter inside forever, and that the older she gets, the more she will demand independence. But I don't feel safe letting her out of my sight. At home she can play outside (including our fenced back yard) only with adult supervision. When we're at a store or a festival, my heart races if she disappears from my view for only a moment. When the grandparents take her out, I spend all my time worrying that they won't be as vigilant at keeping an eye on her.

To further complicate my fears she'll be kidnapped or wander off into danger, my five-year-old daughter has autism. She's already prone to wandering, often completely unaware of her surroundings. She could wander off into traffic without noticing that she was no longer on a sidewalk. And despite our repeated warnings with her, she has no sense of strangers or dangerous people. To her, everyone is a friend, and she can't understand why anyone would ever be mean to anyone else. She would happily follow anyone into a car for the promise of a lollipop.

We discuss safety a lot. I've tried everything I can think of to teach her about avoiding strangers and that not everyone in this world wants to be nice to her. She listens but doesn't understand. It's as if we're telling her that not all people breathe air or that the sun doesn't go down every night.

It's because of this that I've considered something that might be considered a little over-the-top by many parents: a GPS tracking device. They even make devices directed at parents now, with marketing clearly aimed at parents' fears of abduction. I've seen a lot of controversy over parents tracking their teen's movements using GPS technology, and I can understand those arguments. But at this age, with her inability to sense any danger in the world around her, it's starting to make a lot of sense to me. If she wandered away from home or school, I could find out right away. If she was taken, we could quickly track them down. Obviously, any use of it would be re-evaluated as she grows older and develops better skills to keep herself safe.

I know there's nothing out there that can fully protect my children. No device can guarantee complete safety. If she didn't have autism, I don't know if I would even consider such an option. But I often feel I need a little help in keeping her safe, and a GPS device could give me that extra peace of mind. (Strangely, I don't feel any desire to track my younger daughter when she's older. At two-and-a-half, she's already more street smart than her older sister.) While I haven't purchased a GPS device yet, the urge to do so is growing stronger each day.

Would you consider purchasing a tracking device for your child or do you think they are a symptom of being overprotective? Are there other ways to keep your child as safe without using GPS?

This is an original Ohio Moms Blog post.

Christina can also be found at her personal blog, A Mommy Story.

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