Keeping your child safe, (also the name of a seminar I offer), is every parent’s top priority. And each time the internet explodes with news of another abuse to a child, parents are shaken to the core. Fear reverberates across the county, and we ask, “How did that happen?” and “What could have been done to prevent such a nightmare?” Such is the case with the heart-stopping news of Amanda Berry’s, Gina de Jesus’ and Michelle Knight’s abduction and final escape from the living hell of Ariel Castro.
But that horror is not the reason for my blog, although it certainly fed it.
Did you know that not long ago it was Neighborday? You probably know about Secretaries’ Day, Nurses’ Day, and National Police Day. Maybe you’ve heard of National Bus Driver Appreciation Day or even No Socks Day. But who knew that there was a Neighborday?
During a recent parenting group safety discussion, I asked participants who of them knew their neighbors on their street or even their right-next-door-neighbors. Shockingly, very few people answered in the affirmative. Is it because this is Los Angeles, the land of fortress-like property walls and mile long driveways? Is it because no one wants to be intrusive, under the guise of respecting neighbors’ privacy? Or is it because of well-developed tunnel vision?
A group member told us about Neighborday. She had heard about it and, on the spot she decided to create her own neighborhood get-together. She and her children made it all happen—flyers in all the neighbors’ mailboxes, Jumphouse ordered, craft and get-to-know you activities organized, food and fun all ready. While she gingerly cautioned her children that no one might show up (but they could jump and have a blast by themselves), that was not the case. Their Neighborday was a resounding success. And they discovered that one of their neighbors makes honey from her own bees, one has eleven chickens, and another is a conspiracy theorist who thinks the government is stealing dirt from the hillsides. Everyone proclaimed the brilliance of the day and marveled that it had never been done before. Most importantly, the neighbors were getting to know one another.
(For Neighborday celebrations around the world, see http://www.good.is/posts/neighborday-recap-the-10-best-things-that-happened-this-april-27th)
While there has been much media digging, speculation, and discussion about how the Cleveland horror could have happened, no one has identified the weak link, including neighbors’ not knowing Castro. However, for myriad reasons, safety still being at the top of the list, there is much to be said for knowing your neighbors.
Knowing your neighbors leads to caring about them. It is a baby step along the young child’s path to cultivating empathy and care- giving beyond the family.
- Children need to know that our world is filled with people who will help, that “helpers are everywhere,” to quote Mr. Rogers. And, in addition to being aware of “stranger danger,” children must learn and practice asking for help.
- In times of need, your neighbors are often the most expedient path to help.
- By connecting and having familiarity with your neighbors, you necessarily increase your awareness of them as well as your concern for them. Caring for your neighbors fuels your alertness to their ongoing lives.
- Knowing your neighbors expands your vision. Most people could do a better job of being aware of their surroundings, expanding their peripheral vision. Difference (aka seeing that something is fishy) can only be noticed if normal has been established.
- Connecting with your neighbors provides a feeling of safety with security in numbers.
- There is no relationship quite like that with a neighbor. He is not usually family, nor is he necessarily a pre-selected friend. Cultivating that unique relationship adds to a child’s repertoire of social possibilities and skills, and starts him on the path to becoming a citizen of the world (in this case, of the neighborhood!)
What will you do for Neighborday next year?