15 April 2007

How Did We Survive to Adulthood?

Car seats. Safety belts. Bicycle helmets. Rubberized mats beneath playground equipment. Peanut warning labels on foods. Hand sanitizer.

These things were not part of my growing up years. When I look around at all of the safety measures today, I think it's a wonder I survived to become an adult. I'm not suggesting that we put children in harm's way on purpose, but how long will it be until all under 18 persons are swarthed in bubble wrap 24/7?

A mom writing an op-ed piece in Newsweek is wondering the same sorts of things in We Protect Kids from Everything but Fear. She marvels at the youngsters visiting her own kids who cannot believe their eyes when they see fruit roll-ups and real potato chips. She's a self-labeled social deviant because she wants to allow her daughter to walk home from school. Her children don't wear long sleeved swimsuits or have summer tutors to keep things fresh. She speaks of mothers who seem to fear everything on behalf of their children, trying to shelter them from every possible emotional and environmental hardship. She wonders "what's the effect of our collective paranoia on the kids? Yes, these very kids we want to be so self-sufficient, responsible, confident, happy and creative (not to mention not food-obsessed). They're growing up thinking these weirdly weenie views are healthy and normal."

But kids will be kids, to an extent. I think my favourite part of the article was this quote: And then there's playground panic. I had to laugh when an Australian study recently found that playground injuries continue to rise despite safety improvements. One of the suspected reasons: the safe new play structures are so boring that kids are taking more risks in order to have fun.

Are we, as a society, on some sort of runaway train here when it comes to protecting our youth? Again, I understand the desire to protect children, but at some point, enough is enough. For example, we know that lower speed limits prevent more highway deaths (and conserve energy)...but you don't see advocates for having people drive 25 mph on the Interstates. We have to create a balance...some acceptance around the inherent risks associated with Life. Even the lives of children.


Jessica said...

Well, I guess I'm on the same page as you. I have a 2 year old who would need to covered in bubble wrap to prevent all the scrapes, bangs, and bruises that he seems to come up with on a daily basis.
I sit back and remember my own childhood: riding in my mother's lap in the car, riding my bike with no helmet, climbing in trees, jumping off the swingset to see how far I could go. I'm amazed how I survived . . .

Tracy W said...

Well the obvious response is that a number of kids didn't survive. How do you say to the parents of a dead kid that they should have accepted the inherent risks associated with Life? There may be cases where that argument is the rational one, but it's not exactly an easy argument to make to a mourning parent.

I don't know about the USA, but death rates from car accidents have been falling in NZ since the 1970s and probably some of that is due to car seats and seat belts in cars.

It's a complex balance to strike between growing kids who become self-sufficient etc adults and losing kids to preventable accidents. Though the Australian study suggests that perhaps the balance is't that complex.

Super Saver said...


I have the same conversation with my colleagues periodically. I occasionally rode my bike standing on the seat, played touch football in the streets and was out playing morning to night in the summers. I was one who fell off my bike many times, got tackled in the streets, and never needed parents to search for me. Except for one colleague, no one remembers any fatalities from their childhood.

While I would never not use current safe practices for my daughter, I sometimes wonder if over protection leads to higher frequency of less carefulness when they become adults.

Here via Carnival of Education.

Anonymous said...

Once kids realize they are being kept from something, they will do everything and anything to find it out. When a show comes on and the channel is changed right away, kids know something is up, and their instinct is to figure it out.

Also, one way to learn is through making our own mistakes.