Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Safe Haven

A safe environment is generally described in physical terms: fresh air, clean water, nutritious food and adequate shelter. But a truly safe environment encompasses so much more. Freedom from danger, the absence of war or conflict, a strong sense of community and a general feeling of safety and well-being are all part of what constitutes a safe environment.

For 180 years our farmhouse in the country has been the source all of these wonderful things to nine generations of our family. Our home has provided us with such a safe haven that we have named it The Sanctuary. Our oasis of green in the middle of a farmer's field has nurtured and protected us. The trees have given us shelter from the wind and the sun and generated enough oxygen for 100 families. Our well, deep and pure, has provided us with the elixir of life, and our vegetable garden has given us food for our bellies.

For many years, the old orchard to the west of us provided a safe playground for our children. But all that started to change when housing developments started to replace farms. As the houses have moved closer and closer to our home, other children discovered our secret garden. Without a sense of belonging to the land or the history of the people who originally planted it, it has become a place of destruction. Loud ATVs and dirt bikes rip through the fields at anytime of the day, wild bush parties fill the evenings with noise and bonfires, and the night air is often shattered by the sound of the police helicopter surveying our once quiet sanctuary.

Without ever having moved, we have made the transition from isolated oasis to built community. And yet, outside the annoyance of noise, we had managed to maintain our sense of living in a safe environment until very recently.

All that was destroyed a few weeks ago when our home was broken into and we were robbed. All evidence suggests that the culprits were kids. The window they broke to get into the house was too small for an adult to squeeze through. The items that they stole and the bottles of liquor that were also missing led the police to the same conclusion: bored, disenfranchised kids, looking for something to do, looking for something to belong to. Too old for daycare, too young for jobs, these kids create gangs with names like Porch Monkeys and Chocolates. They find a sense of purpose stealing small electronic devices and other pricey items that they can easily sell to other kids for a tenth of their real value.

In our case, the toll was heavy. Among the many stolen items was the iPod that my husband received as a retirement gift and our video and digital cameras that contained the images of our eldest son's wedding reception. Sadly, our loss is much greater than the irreplaceable wedding photos and video. What has been taken from us is our sense of safety and security.

Our once safe haven has become a fortress. We immediately installed a high-tech security system and our daily routine has become a series of checks and double-checks, passwords and security codes. We are no longer comfortable leaving our home empty, and when we are home we are constantly on our guard.

What I find so disturbing is that we are not alone. Gangs have become a way of life, petty crime and violence has become pandemic. The paradox is that as our communities become bigger and bigger, our sense of community diminishes.

According to a recent study by The Vanier Institute of the Family, the dramatic increase in adolescent crime can be attributed to the lack of family values, adult supervision and constant societal and media pressure to have more.

"Parents who subscribe to materialistic values with a preoccupation for upward mobility or 'moving up socially' often do not have time to relate to their children so as to teach them appropriate values," wrote Anne Marie Ambert, Ph.D., in The Rise in the Number of Children and Adolescents Who Exhibit Problematic Behaviors: Multiple Causes. "When parents invest so much of their time in work for materialistic and competitive reasons, their behaviors serve as models for their children's value and development behaviors."

Ironically, in giving our children so much, they no longer place any value on what they, or anybody else has.


The Rise in the Number of Children and Adolescents Who Exhibit Problematic Behaviors: Multiple Causes, Anne-Marie Ambert, Ph.D., (February 2007), and other related papers are available from the Vanier Institute website.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

My thoughts are with you and Brian. What an awful and intrusive disruption of your private space. I cannot imagine what you feeling. Great article. So sad though. Children who are growing up to believe that having stuff makes them someone!

September 04, 2007 9:12 PM  
Anonymous absent.canadian said...

Suzanne, Carolyn and I are so sorry to hear about this. I have never had my home broken into, but I did have my car broken into in Toronto some years ago, and I remember how violated and vulnerable it felt. The important thing is that everyone is OK, though.

September 05, 2007 8:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A police officer told me, and that was over 2 decades ago, that children growing up in materially affluent and professionally driven families are one of the big concerns that he had to deal with.


September 09, 2007 9:43 AM  

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