Our Children’s Best Protection
There are many new threats in today's world. The best protection your children is their relationship with you.
In the 2018 thriller, A Quiet Place, a young family navigates survival in a post-apocalyptic world of fearful silence. They are constantly and tensely alert, desperate to avoid the violent predators that hunt via hyper-sensitive hearing. While the horror/thriller genre may not suit everyone’s movie taste, the film offers a poignant metaphor for raising children in a fluctuating world that can feel beleaguered by new and evolving threats.
In one scene, Emily Blunt’s character turns to her husband (played by her real-life spouse, John Krasinski) and vocalizes a gut-wrenching question, one that painfully resonates in the hearts of many parents: “Who are we, if we can’t protect them?”
As parents today, we might not be battling sonic monsters, but the responsibility of protecting our children can weigh heavily. We face dangers that extend beyond the physical threats, dangers that our own parents couldn’t have imagined. Cyber Cruelty. Exploitation. Online Predators. A minefield of violent and sexual content so accessible and so ubiquitous that our children will almost inevitably encounter it. How parents respond to these encounters plays a large part in determining whether they are explosive and damaging, or whether they become opportunities for deeper connection and learning. And those critical responses are in turn shaped by the preparation and groundwork laid by parents in advance.
That’s why we partnered with scholars, parenting experts, and law enforcement to create Raise. Rather than indulge the futile longing for a romanticized past when things were simpler and safer, we feel an urgent drive to offer parents the support and resources they need to mentor their children in this new period, with all of its messiness and possibility. Because at the end of the day, the best protection you can offer your children is yourself.
The research supports what common sense suggests: children who have a strong relationship with their parents are more likely to confide when they experience something negative in person or online. It is the quality of your connection with your child, more than any other single factor, that is most likely to help them embrace the teachings and values you hope to instill—including those around digital decision-making and online safety. No content filter and no amount of supervision can totally spare your child from the challenges of today’s world. But with a healthy relationship and with your support, those challenges can create growth rather than harm.
Too often as parents, we spend our time and energy correcting our children more than connecting with them. It’s not because we get on a power trip from dispensing discipline (at least, it shouldn’t be!). For most of us, correcting behavior isn’t our favorite part of the job. And granted, it can sometimes feel like we’d be able to connect more frequently and more easily if our kids would just stop doing things wrong! But like leadership in other realms, if our primary focus is on mistakes, we can inadvertently fail to acknowledge and support the things that are going well. That can actually result in more of the things that we are trying to avoid!
When you find yourself feeling tired of endless correcting, try to take a step back and see whether there are ways that you can build greater bonds of connection with your children. We have more in-depth suggestions within the Raise app’s journey on “Nurturing Parent-Child Relationships,” but here are three places you can start right away.
One of the ironies of family life is how easy it is to take the people we love most for granted. We get comfortable with the way things are and can forget to appreciate what we have. With how frequently the virtues of gratitude are discussed, it’s amazing that we’re not already better at it! Specific, personalized, heartfelt expressions of appreciation can build deeper bonds of connection and help our children feel seen.
As we practice actively looking for the good in our children’s behavior and character, and expressing what we see in authentic ways, we’re likely to see more of it. This is because we can overlook the things we’re not looking for, and because of the powers of positive reinforcement. One important thing to remember is that expressing gratitude is different from praise. If we’re not careful, praise can promote problematic beliefs in our children that their worth is dependent on whatever characteristic or trait is being praised. So practice expressing gratitude in ways that don’t have any sort of implication that “...if you stop doing x…y…or z…. I won’t be proud of you anymore”. A good example might look something like this: “I’m feeling really grateful for how you took out the garbage without having to be asked. That made me feel like we’re working on the same team to take care of our house.”
In addition to taking the people we love for granted, we sometimes adopt better manners for guests or strangers than we do for our own family! Of course, being comfortable enough around each other to relax is a positive thing, but when we find ourselves behaving in ways that are unkind, we should consider making the changes that will better align our behaviors with our priorities.
The relationship experts at the Gottman Institute have identified four communication behaviors that are particularly damaging to relationships: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. The last two typically occur in response to the first two; when we feel criticized or disrespected (contempt), it makes a lot of sense to get defensive or to disengage entirely (stonewalling). Instead of criticizing or showing contempt for our family members, we can practice using and showing more kindness, even when expressing that we need behavior to change.
One of the greatest ways to improve the relationships you have as a family is to do things together. Finding experiences that are fun and rewarding can create special memories and strengthen connection.
This will look different for every family, and they don’t even have to be things that cost money or take excessive time. With creativity and teamwork, even something like working on a household chore together can be a good time. For more tips on finding time and opportunities for connecting, check out the Raise app.
We know there are a lot of reasons to be worried about your kids. You’re not alone in this. Our children do need us, but they don’t need flawless parents who never make mistakes and know every answer. They need positive shared experiences, kindness, and to know that they’re appreciated.
Our world is not A Quiet Place, and silence won’t protect our kids. But by cultivating a healthy relationship where they can ask questions and talk things through, you can.