Dear Dr. Ray, I try hard to keep my
kids innocent and to raise them more slowly than
their peers. Regularly, I hear, “You can’t
protect them forever. That’s a real world out
there. They have to learn to deal with life.” —
Yes, you can’t protect them forever. Yes,
that is a real world out there. And yes, they do
have to learn to deal with life. What does any
of this have to do with raising your children at
your pace, and not the world’s?
What you are hearing makes my top ten list of
nonsensical notions assaulting good parents
today. Mindlessly repeated by so many so often,
they have assumed child rearing truth. We think
they are correct just because everybody is
saying they are.
Let’s go back a couple of generations, when
it was still considered intrusive and impolite
for people to give you their unasked for
opinions about your parenting. Protecting kids —
socially, morally, emotionally — was considered
a very good thing. Indeed, a prime duty of
grown-ups was to shield children from the ugly
and immoral stuff of life while the child’s
character was being formed. Keeping kids
innocent was a worthy goal, a sign of
responsible and wise parenting. Soon enough a
youngster would face what was out there beyond
In the last generation or two, we’ve taken a
step backward toward “enlightenment.” It is now
arguably more psychosocially savvy to help kids
deal with seamy reality as it assails them.
Further, if you put it off too long when the
child finally does confront the “real world” —
whatever that means — he will be emotionally and
morally shell-shocked. He’ll be overwhelmed, or
seduced by evil, or crushed into despair. His
very innocence will be his undoing.
I have some questions regarding this “real
kids know the real world” assertion. Who is
better able to navigate the temptations and
challenges of life — a mature child or an
immature child? Is a seven-year-old better or
worse off for knowing what life is all about:
Who is more able to cope with life’s ugliness —
a moral eight-year-old or a moral
The opposite of innocence is not maturity; it
is worldliness. And worldliness doesn’t better
equip a child to cope with the world. It just
makes him more likely to be comfortable with it.
Most parents nowadays accused of being
over-protective are no such thing. They are not
“babying” their children emotionally. Nor are
they running ahead of their kids, bulldozing all
of life’s obstacles and frustrations out of the
way. Their protectiveness is morally driven.
They want to shield their kids from situations
and people who could overwhelm their judgment or
their young consciences.
Compared to under-protective parents, a good
parent can easily look over-protective. In fact,
her supervision, or caution, or pop-cultural
vigilance is healthy and wise. Only when it’s
too late do many parents come to realize they
weren’t protective enough. Over and over again,
my experience with families has taught me a real
life truth: Far more children have trouble as
adults not because they grew up slowly, but
because they saw and learned too much too early.
So stand strong, Mom. Give social freedom
later than the peer group. Protect innocence.
Lay a strong moral base before you let the world
assault it. Your “over-protectiveness” will be
rewarded by real life.
Ray Guarendi. "Preparing Children for the
'Real World'." Lay Witness (May/June 2005): 9.
This article is reprinted with permission
from Lay Witness magazine.
Lay Witness is a publication of Catholic
United for the Faith, Inc., an international lay
apostolate founded in 1968 to support, defend,
and advance the efforts of the teaching Church.
Ray Guarendi is a father, clinical
psychologist, and author. He has been a regular
guest on national radio and television, has
hosted his own national radio show and writes a
syndicated parenting column. In addition, he has
written several books, including Discipline That
Lasts A Lifetime, You're A Better Parent Than
You Think!, now in its nineteenth printing, and
Back To The Family. Visit his website at:
Copyright © 2005 LayWitness
Preparing Children for the "Real