Duce's Wild: Teaching rather than fencing keeps kids safer

Published: Friday, Oct. 9 2015 10:26 p.m. MDT

We need to protect our children more than ever, but a recent sacrament meeting story motivated me to become a braver, wiser parent instead of a worry wart.

With permission from the Berry family, I share my version of a story Jon shared in our ward about his grandfather, Kay. The story was also shared by Pres. Howard W. Hunter on more than one occasion.

When Kay was a boy his parents spent summers in Arizona helping to build a family sawmill. Near the settlement was a dense forest and flowing river, which worried Kay’s mother immensely since the boy tended to be a wanderer and risk-taker. She was certain he would become lost in the woods and take his little brother with him.

To appease her worries, her husband brought leftover boards from the mill and built an extremely high fence more than 6 feet tall. When his work was done, the couple stood proudly admiring his handiwork and sacrifice of time and energy to keep his boy safe.

Within the hour, they found Kay also admiring the fence — from on top. He ably scaled the high wall and was walking on the boards like a balance beam. The very next day, he escaped the “cage,” ran for the forest and promptly and predictably became lost.

Kay’s parents called a search party and, in desperation, began looking for the boy. All work at the mill halted and others came to help, including a man native to the area who worked as a trapper and offered his skilled services. He tracked the boy, took him by the hand and brought him safely home where everyone celebrated.

When the trapper saw the high fence surrounding the yard, he scolded the parents saying, “You can’t fence children in, you teach them. If you had spent the time that it took to build the fence to teach your boy how to live with the forest, how to cope with the dangers and problems, he wouldn’t have become lost.”

The parents could have been offended, but were humbled and accepted the advice from their wise neighbor.

Kay’s father promptly dismantled the fence and then took his boy on a walk. He showed him how the stream flowed downhill from the sawmill to the town, so if he ever became lost in the woods, he could follow the stream toward home. He showed him how the sun moved across the sky to help provide direction. He taught him survival skills to avoid danger and harm.

And that made all the difference.

So, as parents, are we currently building tall fences, or are we teaching survival skills?

Are we throwing our television and computer out the window? Or are we teaching our children how to safely navigate through channels and websites?

Are we buying everything they could possibly need or want? Or do we have kids work for allowances so they can budget money and distinguish between needs and wants?

Are we avoiding uncomfortable conversations about sexual intimacy and the definitions of abuse? Or do we turn off the music during long drives and discuss the physical and emotional facts on the matter?

Do we hope they’ll turn out right? Or do we proactively provide opportunities for school study, community service and physical activities?

I’ve always been impressed with the number of parents I know who aren’t all LDS but who view this time with their children as fleeting and precious. They sacrifice, they volunteer and they teach everything from gun safety to growing a garden.

The best protection we can provide, no matter the personality of our kid, is to boldly teach survival skills so they can safely navigate the wilds of this life.

Stacie Lloyd Duce is a columnist and magazine editor featured regularly in several Montana newspapers and magazines. Her column has appeared regularly on Mormon Times.

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company