Protected or Sheltered?

What’s the difference between protected and sheltered? I got to thinking about that recently, in part because of some observations of my own family, and in part because of overhearing a conversation at a social function. (I was hiding behind a potted plant and working out my escape route.)

Can someone, especially a child, be too sheltered? Oh yes indeed. Can a child be protected but not sheltered? I think that’s what parents who have been exposed to the world themselves want. An environment where the children grow up safe, but not innocent of the dangers and beauties of the Real World.

A man and a woman were discussing schools, and the man said that he’d considered sending his offspring to a private school, but he and his wife didn’t want the child to miss out on the “diversity and knowledge of the world” [his words] that the child would get in the public system. He didn’t want the child too sheltered. The woman made sympathetic noises, and agreed that exposure to diversity was a very important thing.

I managed to keep myself from leaping into the conversation. I survived public school, mostly, and that was back when the current definition of “diversity” wasn’t as strong. However, we had at least six very different cultural groups, at least half of whom were engaging in smouldering hostilities against each other at any given time. We nerds tended to lay low and concentrated on dodging the cross-fire (metaphorical.) The school didn’t have the “ideal” ethnic diversity that so many pundits and education specialists rhapsodize about, but there was a huge swath of socio-economic groups and cultures present.

We might have been “sheltered”, but some of us sure as heck weren’t protected. In an ideal setting, it would have been the other way around. We’d have all had the opportunity to learn about each other, to argue and discuss and sample other people’s cultures, without the risk of getting beaten up or having a car keyed, or just being caught when a fight spilled out of one area and into another. I know, rainbows and unicorns, and some cultures just don’t play well with others.

Today we have kids who are so sheltered from any sense of what the rest of the world might be like that reality, or even different ideas, terrifies them. I’ve encountered students who were aghast at historical events and could barely come to grips that things like that had happened, and sometimes are still happening. Heck, I met college students who fought tooth-and-claw to remain in their sheltered mental world, and some succeeded. They are all diverse in the same way, thinking alike, but with different colored exteriors. Sort of the diversity one encounters in a bag of M&Ms.

I have a feeling that that’s what the couple mentioned above envisioned public schools to be. They’re right, in the sense that if the child went to one of the area’s private schools, the child wouldn’t be exposed to a lot of cultural and other conflicts. And some of the schools are mono-cultural in the religious sense. Many aren’t. There is more economic variety than one would suspect, and a lot of culture-of-origin variety. Occasionally enough that teachers have to gently intervene and explain to one or more parties that “What you think that means is not what it means here in the US. Please clarify exactly you want/need/intend to do.”

Several major media outlets appear determined to shelter people from reality by presenting their own take on things. It gets old, especially for those of us who have functioned outside the cocoon for a while. People take religion seriously. Those groups of young men who accost young women in various places in Europe are not merely curious about culture and language. China’s presence in Africa is not benign and sparse. The world is not peace, love, and gentle native peoples who only “do that” because they have been corrupted by the West.

Too much sheltering is leading to bad results, both for the sheltered people and for society at large. We need people who have been gradually educated about the rough edged and hard spots on the road to the future. Risk is needed, and stuff happens. When a tornado hits, or someone with too many angry voices in her head grabs a weapon and goes amok, society needs people who can deal with the event and the aftermath.

There’s a healthy balance between too-much shelter, and too much “we’re all going to dieeeeeeeeee!” Believe me, I know. I avoided the TV yesterday because just the prospect of an ice storm sets off all sorts of problems for me. I’m better than I used to be, but the broadcast quasi-panic of “You must prepare! We might lose power! Trees might fall!” triggers a full-blown adrenaline dump and flight-fight reaction. No one around me needs that, most especially me.

So, how sheltered should children be? How protected should they be? What is the balance between cotton wool all over and turning them loose in a den of predators? I don’t have a good answer, besides to say that it depends on the kid. I’ve heard stories about a student who was too sheltered even for private school. I’ve also encountered kids who’s adventures in public school made mine look like a Quaker meditative peace retreat.

I fear that, as a society, unless we shift back to protection over shelter, the predators are going to carve a large swath before the sheepdogs and shepherds can regain the field.



6 thoughts on “Protected or Sheltered?

  1. Hah. I send my daughter to private school, when she was in HS. A small Catholic all-girls school, on the south side of town, which meant about %97 percent Hispanic and blue-collar working class, instead of the public high school just around the corner, a school in a generally middle-class and more thoroughly racially-mixed neighborhood. She was one of those dreamy sorts, who needed more than anything, to be in small classes. Her sophomore math class had five students in it, so she couldn’t sit in the back row and look out the windows and daydream without the teacher noticing.
    She was the only natural blond in her graduating class of fifty, one of only two Anglo girls. But for one black and one Indian (dot) girl – all the rest Hispanic. She’s still friends with some of those girls. I’d say she was protected – but certainly not sheltered. I always thought it was better to teach children the skills needed to live dangerously, rather than not let them experience danger at all.

  2. I might have grown up fine without meeting that alleged pedophile in elementary school. On the other hand, I had depth of experience for, in hindsight, assessing the quality of public school teachers as intellectuals.

    If you want your kids to have knowledge of the real world, find out the child labor laws in your state, and send them to work.

    It is better trolling to mention that child soldiers are a thing in some countries, but I am not persuaded that there are real world situations where that is a good choice.

    My instinct is for a great deal of isolation, perhaps more than is compatible with sanity.

  3. It’s sadly amusing in MN when a storm is forecast to see the crowds in grocery stores. Alright, the stuff that can go bad quickly or is ravenously consumed by bored/excited kids.. that makes some sense. But anything NOT snarfed by kids AND is shelf-stable? Whaddayamean you don’t have a few day’s worth as a matter of course since… well, October? “Halloween Blizzard” might be unusual, but that the name EXISTS tells you it CAN HAPPEN HERE.

    I am amused by the idea that since the big pre-storm items are bread, eggs, and milk, the storm meal of choice must be “French” Toast.

    And I admit to going out just as things started getting heav{-y,-ier} and getting a few bottles. Didn’t have the rye I was after (Old Overcoat is inexpensive, NOT “cheap” – there is a huge difference) so I grabbed something I hadn’t for a few years: Yukon Jack. (How many reading just heard/said “Poppies..poppies..poppies…” or thought of a horrifying brain ‘surgery’?)

  4. Sigh… While I understand your concerns and the ‘direction’ that parents today ‘should’ be going, us old farts didn’t have a choice. We went to public school, dealt with the classmates, sometimes went out behind the cafeteria and fought, then went back to class. We were free to roam as kids, only requirement was to be home by dark. And on the weekends, we hunted squirrels and birds (and other things) in a 2 mile by 6 mile patch of woods that were behind the pasture. One kid did shoot himself in the thigh with a .22, climbing a fence without unloading (like the rest of us). He survived… And learned that lesson. I never shielded my kids from the real world, for better or worse. They thank me for that now, even if they had a few nightmares back then from some of the things they saw. And yes, their kids are free range even today…. LOL

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