When should a parent worry?

I asked Katherine Gordy Levine … There are many recurring messages that run through ‘When Good Kids Do Bad Things‘. One of them you state outright towards the beginning of the book and that is “Some things are worth worrying about. Others aren’t.” and you promise “I’ll teach you the difference.”. In a nutshell, when it comes to parenting, how can you tell the difference?

Her answer …

The things worth worrying about can fit into a walnut shell. Worry only about life and limb. Now it can be argued that life and limb issues come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Unsafe sex, experimenting with drugs, getting drunk and risk taking behavior can involve life and limb. Still if you step back and look at the statistics, and keep in mind my mother’s saying, “God protects the young and foolish.” More children make it to adulthood than not, at least in the West.

So to paraphrase Mark Twain, most of what we worry about never happens.

Still kids do die or are maimed or kill others. When I was a teenager, two school mates died. One in an automobile accident, another committed suicide shortly after graduation. Some of my foster children are dead. Two or three are in jail for violent crimes. Some remain at risk or may not be alive; I have no way of knowing now.

Would worrying have made a difference? No; it would have taken more than worry to save these lives. Worrying does not cure addiction, mental illness, stop hard core criminal behaviors, or keep accidents from happening.

After my years as a foster parent, I directed mental health crisis teams. Eventually, I became “an expert” and was asked to train New York City’s children’s mental health crisis teams. The job of those crisis teams was to decide if a child had to be taken to an emergency room for a full psychiatric evaluation. I taught four rules:

1. Listen to your heart or your gut reaction.
2. Listen to your head. Your heart and head become an educated consumer.
3. Worry until your heart and head agree that you should or should not worry.
4. If you can’t go home at night and sleep after evaluating a child, turn the job over to another professional.

I also taught about risk factors—these are discussed more fully in ‘When Good Kids Do Bad Things’ but are fairly clear: addictions, mental illness including depression, anorexia, and trauma reactions; being part of a criminal or risk taking group; being involved with someone who is violent; and finally, being different from the norm—gay, lesbian, having a physical disability, being retarded.

WHAT IS A PARENT TO DO? If your worries keep you up at night, night after night; if the tension level in the house is rising; if some say don’t worry, while others say worry more, take yourself to a competent professional. He or she can help you figure out if your worries are realistic and start strategizing to keep your kid safe.

If your worries are not realistic and you can’t let go, you are the one needing professional counseling and support.

One other word of advice. A parent can only do what a parent can do. Kids get hurt; worse some kids die. You job is to do all that can be done. If the absolute worse that can happen happens, you will still wonder what more you should have done. Probably nothing. At the same time, you will always think of something more you might have done. You surely would have done it had you known its importance. But we cannot predict the future, we cannot control all. We can only do the best we can and pray, hope the fates, God, keeps a child we love alive and well.

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Filed under A taste of Katherine's style, From the desk of her publisher

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