Thursday, July 28, 2011

We Tell Our Children There Are No Monsters

by Donna Pendergast

We tell our children there are no monsters.
They don't come out at night, they don't hide in the dark.
They don't torture and kill little girls.
This trial will prove beyond any doubt that we delude ourselves...

Those were the words that began my opening statement in a horrific murder trial where
two 12-year-old girls were sexually assaulted and stabbed in a park. Their broken bodies were later found stuffed in a hidden culvert, a visual image that haunts me to this day. The pictures were as bad as it gets and remain indelibly engraved in my mind.

With the recent spate of horrific child murders that memory comes back all too often. I am forced to ponder the concept of a society where children are not safe to run and play, and parents live in very real fear of monsters who walk the streets and hide in the shadows or sometimes who don't bother to hide at all.

Leiby Kletsky, 8 years old, was recently murdered in Brooklyn, New York, on the very first time that he was allowed to walk home from a summer day camp. His dismembered body was found in a trash can in Borough Park, a tight-knit and insular community of orthodox Jews which is considered by most to be a "safe" place in the community. In Detroit, the police await the identity of the burned body of a small child found in an abandoned home, while at the same time acknowledging that the description matches that of Mariha Trenice Smith (pictured right), a five-year-old child who disappeared or was abducted from her home this past Sunday morning, a short distance away from the burnt out home where a small body was found. And in Norway, a country mourns the slaughter of at least seventy innocent youths hunted down and murdered last Friday at a wooded retreat accessible only by boat. The shocking details of the brutal massacre are still continuing to emerge.

When a child dies, our sense of comfort and security is turned upside down. In an increasingly violent world we are forced to confront an unfortunate truth; there are monsters out there. So how do we take today's realities and redefine what it means to be a parent? How do we keep our children safe while allowing them to experience the world and become independent? How do we balance our fears and and yet still allow our children to play outside, to ride their bikes and to walk to school. How do we protect our children without clipping their wings and cramping their style?

For a generation of Baby Boomer and Generation X and Y parents the answer is difficult. Many of them grew up in a world where streetlights were the curfew, cell phones were unknown and walking to a friends house alone was a rite of passage. A walk home after dark was nothing to be feared-it was the norm and it was a special occasion when their parents offered or agreed to give them a ride to their friend's house or to an event. Yet they survived and thrived and became increasingly able to spread their wings and fly the coop.

Now they parent a generation of children who only need see the evening news to know that danger lurks outside their very door. They are responsible for keeping their children safe in a world where predators lurk around many corners and sometimes have access to their very homes via gaming technology, the Internet or via bold and sensationalistic crimes. They are tasked with policing their children's every activity while suspecting that every restriction and rule may have a detrimental effect on their children's mental and physical development. Astute parents fear that epidemics like childhood obesity are related to an increasingly restrictive environment where their children's ability to run and play is dependent on parental supervision and the ability of an adult to transport them to limited and well defined locations for safe play. They understand that they are the first line of protection for their children yet fear that such protection is stunting their children's potential and ability to grow and flourish.

Metal detectors can not shut violence out of our children's lives. As parents it is our responsibility to keep them safe. On the other hand it is also our duty to insure that our children don't find themselves unprepared in a world that bears little resemblance to the the restrictive and regulated environment of the family womb. We need to equip our children to flourish on the journey from a protected environment to a world that requires intelligence, insight and the ability to grasp the big picture.

There are no easy answers.

Statements in this post are my own and are not intended to reflect the views, opinion or position of the Michigan Attorney General or the Michigan Department of Attorney General


Anonymous said...

Donna, I struggle with the exact things you write about. I have a six year old, and I want him to spread his wings and feel a little independence, but I can't let him out of my sight. I don't let him go outside alone. He is not allowed to open an exterior door without letting me know. How do I raise an competant, confident, responsible young man? I wish there was an answer, even if it isn't an easy one.

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