By Charlotte Hilton Andersen, REDBOOK
Five years old and wandering the streets of inner-city Chicago: No, I wasn't a latchkey kid looking for mischief. I was there as a punishment. See, I'd been throwing a tantrum in the car and my mother decided to teach me a lesson by making me get out of the car and then driving away. Her plan was to drive around the block and then come back and get me, a little shaken and hopefully a lot chastened. Unfortunately, she'd trained me too well.
As soon as I thought I was solo, I went looking for the nearest adult to help me out. My mother and my aunt found me sometime later making chit-chat with a local bodega owner.
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"What on earth are you doing?!" she screeched. As a mom now, I can only imagine her panic.
"Finding help. You left me." In my memory I sound a lot more placid than I probably did at the time.
"Well, I didn't know you were going to walk away!"
"Well, I didn't know you were coming back!"
We hugged it out, and that might have just gone down as a charming little anecdote of what it was like growing up three decades ago when kids didn't wear seatbelts and were expected to walk home from school even if it was raining. Except that the other day found me re-enacting my mother's lesson style with my own kids.
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I have a 5-year-old whose most favorite thing in the world is to ditch me as soon as we get into a store and head straight to the toy aisle. Along the way he might hide in a few really hard-to-see places just to give me extra heart palpitations as I drag his siblings through the store after him. Lectures, time-outs and loss of privileges did nothing to curb this, so I pulled out the big guns. I found a news story with footage of a little girl nearly getting kidnapped from the toy aisle of a store on the Internet and made him watch it. "Do you see why you need to stay right next to Mommy?"
He was unfazed. "I'd turn invisible and that bad guy would never find me." And then I turned and saw his 7-year-old brother-the one who sticks to me like glue and has nightmares about getting left places-with tears running down his face. Major parenting fail.
And yet despite my family's bad experiences with scare tactics, when I asked my friends about it every single one of them admitted to doing something similar. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it backfired but either way scaring your kids straight still seems to be in the parenting handbook (there's totally one of those, right?).
What do you think: Is scaring kids to teach them a lesson a good idea? Have you ever done it?
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