Helmets and bubble-wrap are key to parenting
Each time my kids venture away from home unsupervised, even for a short distance, I get a little bit nervous. What if the back wheel falls off their bike? What if they forget how to get back home? I hope they don't take candy from a stranger or develop a case of wanderlust and end up in Madras. And if the planet is suddenly struck by a massive comet and our world is cast into some apocalyptic tailspin, how will they make it back under our protective wing?
Call me a Nervous Nelly if you like — I wouldn't argue with you. It's a bit ridiculous to feel this way, and frankly a bit hypocritical given how adventurous I was as a child, but I can't help it. Either my generation has gone soft, or the world has gotten way more dangerous — maybe both — and I just can't seem to let the little buggers roam without chewing off all my nails.
Times have definitely changed. I remember hopping on a bike at a pre-teen age and disappearing for hours on local roads and trails. No helmet, no knee pads and no common sense — just me and an unhealthy need for speed and bike jumps. And in spite of my continual bravery — also known as stupidity — I survived. So did all my friends.
And if you think that's crazy, it's got nothing on my parents' generation. My dad remembers playing Cowboys and Indians with the neighborhood kids … with rocks and actual arrows … and aim apparently good enough to cause some bodily harm. He also took a skateboard down a steep hill … that was chip-sealed … and I'm pretty sure no helmets were worn.
Most kids back then didn't wear seat belts, and my generation treated them as more of a nuisance than a fact-of-life requirement. We drank from garden hoses and wandered for hours in dark neighborhoods without adults on Halloween night.
And our parents had no way to know for sure where we were at any given moment, because unlike our present-day culture, kids weren't cruising around with cellphones.
I don't know how my parents handled it. I would head out and vanish for much of an afternoon and there was virtually no way to check on me — although they always tell me they had spies throughout the community (perhaps I need to set up that sort of thing here). But that would only work so well. It would in no way compare to the on-the-spot contact that cellphones make possible. Unless of course they forget to take them … or the battery dies … or they just decide not to answer â€“ then it's Nervous Nelly time.
I hate to say it, but if I had my way, my kiddos would rarely if ever leave the neighborhood — "If I can't see you out the window, you ain't goin.'" In fact, they would never ride bikes, skateboards or anything else without a helmet … tucked inside another helmet. They would wear knee pads, elbow pads, nose guards, mouth guards and UV blocking sunglasses. I would insist they cover any exposed skin with SPF 300 sunblock and never exceed 10 miles per hour — or 4 miles per hour on foot.
Of course, I can't go that far. SPF 300 sunblock doesn't yet exist.
Honestly, it would be nice to just send the little tikes out of the house, to let them explore their little slice of the community for a few hours the way past generations once did. It would certainly give us worn out parents a breather. But it's pretty hard to let go.
And it really makes me wonder how far the next generation of parents will take this abundance of caution. Might my grandchildren be confined to their yard at all times? Will they be encased in a cushiony plastic bubble? Will they be fitted with electronic ankle bracelets or tracking chips so supervising adults can locate them at all times? I know, it sounds ridiculous, but what would the Boomer generation say about kids having portable computers in their pockets? That's right — ridiculous.
But no matter how cautious or cavalier us parents choose to be, I suspect our kids will be just fine. They will very likely survive and even thrive and someday head out into the world ready to conquer it.
I just hope they remember to wear a helmet.
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