As a baby boomer, I’ve lived long enough to know that terrible things can happen to kids who run wild. Don’t get me wrong. I adore children who embrace life with enthusiasm. I’m a fan of spunk and gumption. But there are times when I cringe at the thought of missed opportunities.
The other day I was at an elderly friend’s house. She needs help with her garden and I relish the chance to be outdoors on a fine day. I was pulling weeds when I heard a blood-curdling scream pierce the bucolic peace. As my eyes followed the sound, I saw a horrifying sight. Bounding across the road came little Molly, the hound puppy adopted by a family across the street. As a car slowed down to avoid the energetic bundle of joy, Molly was followed into the street by her young owner. Barefoot, mixing beater in hand, in pursuit of the playful pup, this little girl covered the rough ground like she was crossing hot coals at a tiki night cocktail party.
I’d like to tell you that both of them made it safely to the other side of the street, but the truth is it got worse. My friend’s daughter owns a horse stable right behind the house. Across the pastures, I could see the horses grazing. These are not hobby horses. If you’ve ever been on a real working farm or at a stable, you know that horses have personalities. At any given point in time, there could be a retired race horse, a cart-pulling champ, or any of an assortment of fiesty, fiery-tempered beasts. Horses rarely suffer fools gladly, and they can be cranky. My friend’s daughter has been kicked many times, a few seriously, and the injuries were frightening. I can tell when it’s time to eat from number of horses kicking their stall doors. Some horses have been known to kick down the doors of their stalls.
That’s why I rushed to grab Molly as I saw her head towards the pasture, followed by her young owner, but without success. All I could do as I ran was to yell, “Don’t go in that pasture!” If I hadn’t, I’m convinced the young girl would have scampered under the electric fence like it was a great adventure waiting to happen. Why? Because children don’t always perceive the real danger of situations.
That’s why I say that pets and kids need to be supervised by adults. It’s tempting to think that things will always have a Disney ending, but the truth is so many terrible things can happen in the blink of an eye.
As I helped her hunt for the missing hound, this little girl was most interested in the pony in the corral. I could see it in her eyes, that lust to reach across the fence and pet the creature. She did not notice Molly tearing through the pasture, frolicking past the terrified horses, and she was more than content to explore the farm as the adults around her tried to find that rambunctious puppy.
Once Molly was finally apprehended, rope had to be procured to lead the wayward hound home. Why? Because Molly doesn’t come when she’s called. She’s too busy doing her own thing, rather like her young owner.
What’s the solution? A fenced yard area would be a good start to help Molly learn limits. When I asked her young owner if Molly liked to take naps, she said no. Molly is only tired at night, after a long day of play. What’s wrong with taking Molly for long walks on a leash? Good for the girl, good for the dog.
I know I’m an old fuddy-duddy when it comes to kids and pets. I believe in good discipline, rules, structure, and limits. Good discipline isn’t about controlling a child’s spirit. It’s about teaching a child to understand that the world is not always a friendly place. It’s about learning to make good decisions to stay safe. Rules, structure, and limits help kids to know a safe environment and to appreciate that being responsible is a good thing. It’s not about taking the fun out of being a kid.
I have little doubt this little girl is well-loved. But I do wonder that her mother and father fail to understand their responsibilities as parents. I blame that on an overly-permissive society that sees any intervention as a threat to personal freedom and the learning process. When I look from the number of young drivers texting as they barrel down highways to the number of kids using bath salts as the next best high, I see young people needlessly endangering themselves, not because it’s a necessary part of growing up, but because the adults in their lives didn’t think it was important or necessary to set limits.
If we want responsible adults, we must accept the reality that kids need good limits and reasonable intervention, not as punishment or denial of rights, but as a means to help them learn that life isn’t always fair or just, and the best chance of living a good life is to make good choices. Rules, structure, and limits keep people, animals, and property safer. Education is the key. Teach a child to think. The next time a child you know seems headed in the wrong direction, have a conversation. Be honest. Be kind. Be realistic. Most children want to be respected by the adults in their lives, so use that as a means to help a child stay safe.