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Jewish World Review Oct. 10, 2002 / 4 Mar-Cheshvan, 5763

Betsy Hart

Betsy Hart
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Consumer Reports

Protecting kids from protectors | Last night my first grader told me the big news - that the school counselor had visited her class that day.

As my daughter related it, the woman talked about problems children might have and explained how she could help the kids with their problems whenever they wished. They just need to "fill out" and turn in the forms she made available to them, circling the little picture that best described the "problem," whether family, friends, school or so on. Then, she said, she would talk to them individually.

My little girl's response was along the lines of. ". . .people have problems?" Which is exactly what it should be at age 6. I certainly don't want her to think that a cross word with her little sister at breakfast requires a meeting with the school counselor at lunch.

But, though not informed about it, my husband and I were prepared for such an event as the counselor visit. Because while we are generally happy with out children's school, we are vigilant and, we hope, wise about our children's lives there.

Most important, we know that a world surrounds our four children that attempts to come between them and their dad and me. And that throughout our culture parents are typically presented as, at best, bumbling and out-of-touch if well-meaning, and at worst, abusive creeps.

But we aren't intimidated by the culture. So our children have learned the RED FLAG of safety: If ever an adult says to you, "this is a secret we'll keep from your mom and dad," or "don't tell your mom and dad" or any variation of that theme, our kids know that person is doing a bad thing and that they need to tell us about him right away. The kids have learned that such an adult is dangerous because he's trying to come between our child and the people who want to help that child most in the world - their mom and dad.

This counselor didn't say that she wouldn't tell the child's parents what they talked about, and I have every hope that she would. Nor do I doubt that there are some children from unusually dysfunctional families who need a counselor's help. I'm just thankful that in the counselor's presentation my first grader strongly sensed the RED FLAG.

That RED FLAG covers a multitude of sins. For starters, there is probably not a child molester in history who has not told his victim to "keep the secret."

But there are other ways for an adult, even a well meaning one, to do harm to a child by coming between him and his parents. Sometimes the "experts" just think they know better how to raise kids, or at least address their concerns, than their parents do.

Yet how can that be? No one knows the character, the heart, the moods, the hot buttons, the nuances, the strengths and weaknesses of my children like their dad and I. Most important, no one loves them, has their best interests at heart, or has responsibility for them like we do.

Hey, I'm happy to engage the experts. From doctors, to reading specialists, to other wise parents I've gone to ask, "What would you do if. . ." it's important to know that we parents don't know it all. Sometimes we need help. The question is, are the experts working with me as the parent, to aid my role as the most important and best influence in my child's life, or are they trying to become between my child and me? My kids know that any adult who would circumvent his parents does not have that child's best interests at heart, and is to be avoided at all costs. As we've told them, it doesn't matter if it's a neighbor, a teacher, a physician, or a counselor, any adult who says "this is just between us, I won't tell mom and dad" is bad news.

My first grader also knows there are to be no trips to the school counselor without me, and so does the school. (Which means, there are no trips to the school counselor.) As my little one told me, "I would just talk to you about any problems, mom." I don't know that that's always going to be true, though I certainly hope it is, and anyway their dad and I've made clear to our kids that they can talk to us about anything.

But, at least I do know that the RED FLAG of safety has already provided some protection to my little ones.

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JWR contributor Betsy Hart, a frequent commentator on CNN and the Fox News Channel, can be reached by clicking here.


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