Reinterpreting the parental warning cry
The kids call it “pre-yelling,” while we think of it as “advanced warning.”I’m talking about those parental admonitions that accompany things like teen outings, borrowed equipment or, well, just about anything beyond sitting in the living room in our presence, halo or nimbus intact.Example: Junior wants to borrow a pair of binoculars. We say yes, then list 17 different things he should be sure to do to ensure safety of said binoculars. Often, these begin with the word “don’t” or the phrase “be careful not to …” language by its very nature destined to go largely unheard, unheeded and quickly forgotten. Since our kids are, for the most part, a fairly responsible and intelligent lot, no doubt they’re well aware of the parental purgatory in which they’ll be placed if they come home with two telescopes instead of a pair of binoculars.Even so, we can’t resist. These things must be said or so some doofus parental instinct tells us. We’re so sure that our kids will be lured into folly unless they get a dose of the “be carefuls” on the way out the door that we happily set aside years of parenting experience to do so. This is the experience that tells us that no amount of exhortations and warnings, no matter how well articulated or emphasized, will make the slightest bit of difference in the actions of our children.This doesn’t include the truly useful advice that we are obligated to impart to our offspring as soon as they appear to understand English. “Don’t talk to strangers” and “keep your legs out of the wood chipper” are things children need to hear and understand for their safety. What I’m talking about here is the largely senseless repetition of things they already know.Parents say these things mostly for themselves, of course. There’s an insurance policy element involved, to the extent that infractions incurred that had been “pre-yelled” about put us safely into the “told-ya-so” realm, if need be. Also, there’s a bit of comfort in issuing the warnings, since it makes us feel like we’re doing something constructive although we are, in fact, mostly powerless. Once kids reach the age that they’re allowed out of the house unsupervised, the only thing we can do to satisfy our natural instinct to keep them locked in their rooms is tell them, ad nauseum, to be careful out there – for the love of cryin’ out loud!Instinctively, kids know this. Behind the rolled eyes and over-the-shoulder utterances of “Yes, Mom, I heard you the first nine times” is the recognition that being pre-yelled at is better than nothing at all. Perhaps they intuit, at a deeply subconscious level, that if they didn’t hear these things on a regular basis, they’d be on the road to ruin. Maybe the halls of San Quentin and Super Max are filled with people who weren’t told by their parents to look both ways before crossing the street or at the very least, keep the safety on your gun, Johnny, and stick to low-tar cigarettes.Somewhere between subjecting the kids to a PowerPoint presentation on traffic safety and letting them run out the door with Molotov cocktails is that middle ground good parents try hard to achieve. The trinity of safety, freedom and trust must coexist if our kids have any hope of growing up somewhat normal. And if parents err by over-emphasizing safety and skimping a bit on the trust at times, healthy kids have a built-in deflector shield to parse the more extreme messages into something usable.If they didn’t have such a trusty device for translating the pre-yell into a message of love, they’d never make it to voting age.Alex Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14625, or email@example.com.Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado
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