What do kids learn from helicopter parents?

What do we teach our children when we wrap them in bubble-wrap and protect them from the world? That the world is too dangerous to live in?

BOISE, Idaho, August 16, 2011 — No parent wants a child to get hurt. It’s a parent’s worst nightmare to hear the wail of a child who has fallen and hurt himself, and even worse yet if there is no wail. We go to great lengths to protect our offspring from injuring themselves, but have we gone too far?

Parents are bombarded with frightening messages every day:

Around 10,000 babies injured each year from falls from cribs, playpens and bassinets.   

It’s enough to make even the most levelheaded parent think twice about what kinds of protection devices are needed. Where there is a perceived need, there will be some entrepreneur ready and willing to make a buck off that paranoia.

Baby protection devices have sprung up recently, enticing parents to spend ever-greater amounts of money to keep their children safe. Just take a look at what’s out there, even for babies learning to navigate on their own two feet

  • Is it true that learning to walk in a world of hard surfaces can turn a special moment into a heart rendering incident in a flash? Supposedly Thudguard® takes protection straight to the infant’s head, giving parents great peace of mind.
  • With motor skills that are not yet fully developed, what babies need is added protection. That’s where The Baby No Bumps – Safety Helmet® comes in, designed to protect your baby from harsh bumps on the head while learning to crawl and walk.  
  • Then there’s “The Oopsie” Baby Head Guard, created as head protection to prevent the many bumps and bruises suffered from falls while the baby’s in the early stages of walking.   
  • And SOFT TOP, which claims, with proper use and supervision, it offers peace of mind for the parent and freedom for the young explorer. 

Seriously? Babies fall when they are learning to walk. It happens. OK, I’m relatively certain there is some small, infinitesimally minute number of children who are actually permanently injured or even killed due to a fall while learning to crawl or walk, but isn’t that the risk we take when we have children?

Does bubblewrapping our children have unintended consequences?

Do we really need to wrap our kids in bubble-wrap and put helmets on their heads to prevent them from getting hurt while learning to walk? Or playing in the sandbox?

Helmets while riding a bike or playing football are good, reasonable precautions to take. Wearing a helmet while learning to walk? Now that’s just ridiculous.

What kind of message do we, as parents, want to send to our children? I know the message parents who use baby helmets want to give is one of love, that they love their child so much that they will do whatever it takes to keep that child safe. But is that the message the child actually gets?

Or does the child come away fearing the big bad world out there? Does the bubble-wrapped child grow up with the idea that nothing is safe, not even his own home? Is the idea of danger permanently etched in the child’s psyche, making him or her forever unable to feel safe and secure?

Of course, there are no answers to these questions. The idea of baby helmets to protect our little ones from bumps and scrapes is relatively new and there are no long-term studies done on the effects of helmets on them. But still, it leads me to wonder.

The message I want to send to my children is that life is there for the living. It’s meant to be lived. And, yes, living means taking some risks. Life doesn’t come with a money-back guarantee. It doesn’t come with an instruction book either. There are inherent risks in this thing we call life.

As I see it, the best preparation for adulthood is childhood. As children, kids learn how to take care of themselves by getting hurt. Little Johnnie touches a hot stove and gets burned, learning that the stove is hot and to avoid it in the future. Missy cuts herself with a knife and learns to be careful around sharp blades. And all kids fall down and hurt themselves. And then hurt themselves again. And again. Through it all, they learn about their world and how to prevent those painful episodes.

If we take those opportunities away from children when they are babies, they’ll grow up without those lessons. All of a sudden we have an adult who has no clue how to use a knife, even though he’s got the strength and coordination to seriously injure himself with one. We have adults who don’t know how to safely navigate through their world because they’ve never been given the chance to learn those skills.

Is that really what we want for our children? Do we want to guarantee they’ll grow up “safe” only to jeopardize their future because they don’t know how to deal with danger?

Or is it better to walk them through danger, step-by-step in their childhood and help them learn coping strategies to deal with the world while they are still young and have their whole lives ahead of them?

As for me, I vote for the latter.

Nancy Sathre-Vogel is just a mom who decided to take a bike ride. On the longest road in the world.  Some people say she’s exceptionally brave. Others say she’s outrageously foolish. She doesn’t think she’s either. She’s just a mom who wanted an adventure and time with her kids. Her most recent adventure was cycling from Alaska to Argentina, a journey she documented at www.familyonbikes.org 

Follow her on Twitter @familyonbikes and Facebook Family on Bikes


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Nancy Sathre-Vogel

Nancy Sathre-Vogel is a modern-day nomad and vagabond who travels the world in search of beads and other treasures.

Her preferred mode of transportation is a bicycle, although she’s been known to travel in car, bus, plane, boat, donkey cart, elephant, and camel. She is now pedaling the length of the Americas because her eleven-year-old sons have decided they want to get the Guinness World Record as the youngest people to cycle the Pan-American Highway.

Although there are times when she questions her sanity, she somehow keeps going, knowing that treasures await in countries far and wide. You can read about her and her travels at www.familyonbikes.org. Emails are always welcome.

Contact Nancy Sathre-Vogel

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