I’m glad I’m not a kid today. It doesn’t look like as much fun as when I was a boy. Maybe outside urban areas it’s still fun, but from where I stand, when I watch children these days, I see over protected, insulated, and sheltered kids and I wonder how they are going to manage later in life after growing up with such a sense of fear about life.
As a boy, in the East Bay area by San Francisco, I would regularly be told to “get out of the house and go play.” And I, along with the other kids in the neighborhood, would wander around the school or find a creek to explore.
We all had bikes and would ride them the couple of miles to the sporting goods store, or the library, or that big high school we would one day attend. Frequently at the school we would climb up on the building and run along the roof, exploring and looking for treasure. I remember vividly jumping off the roof as a kid, as we all did.
Being so close to Tahoe, most of my friends and I learned to ski. It was a social norm that you skied, just like learning to read, and doing math. I remember that when I was learning to ski, I was put in classes in the mornings and practiced on the slopes in the afternoon.
Kids were considered breakable, bendable, and resilient when I was growing up. Everyone broke a bone at some point. Scrapes and bruises were normal because you were outside and doing things. Let’s face it, as you follow a creek, you’re going to be scratched by a tree limb, or slip on some rocks and land on your butt. That’s part of the adventure; a major life lesson is about getting bruised and battered and coming back for more.
But not today.
Today it’s all about preventing every possible scratch, scrape, bruise or road rash. If a kid shows up at school with a skinned knee or bruised wrist, the question is not “what was the adventure behind it?” but “who did it to you, because we must report it to child protective services.”
We have legislated the life out of being a kid. We have added so many protections and safeguards to everyday activities that the term “nanny state” really doesn’t do it justice.
On the boardwalk this past weekend I saw a boy, probably 7 years old, riding a bike, and he had the legally required helmet on. His parents were with him on their bikes, they did not have their helmets on. In the crush of people there also was an inline skating boy. He had on his helmet, plus his elbow pads, plus his knee pads, his sunglasses on and his wrist guards.
Frankly, he looked more like a mini-version of RoboCop than a boy who was out having fun. And I fear that this is what we are creating, a society of robots who are so protected from the dings and dents of life that they are easily controlled by our government.
I realize that legislation requiring children to wear helmets while riding a bike comes not from concerned parents, but was bought and paid for by the helmet manufacturers’ lobbyist. The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute (yes, there really is one, I’m not making that up) reports that, “Bell also funds bicycle helmet promotion activities of the Safe Kids, whose local chapters are the country’s most active lobby for mandatory helmet laws.”
This year, new legislation came out requiring minors who ski and snowboard to wear helmets. It’s a marketing ploy by the companies that make the products and if they can get a legislature to demand that you buy their products, they are assured of greater profits.
The pitch to legislators, and the consumer, is that there is a huge and dangerous problem of children maiming or killing themselves while doing these activities. The companies play on the emotions of parents who want to protect their children from all of life’s great dangers. They use the rare, though highly reported, case of someone who hurt themselves as the reason why all people should be protected from the “grave and extreme dangers” of whatever sport they have created a new product for.
I don’t imagine it will be long before the wrist guard makers and the elbow pad manufacturers will have legislation requiring children to wear them while riding a bike.
In a world that is fraught with danger, it seems to me the better course of teaching our children would be to face the risks and let them learn that they will recover from the occasional bump or a scrape.
My favorite cool dad was joking with me the other day, he said that he bubble wrapped his kid before sending him to school. He was kidding, but the more I look around, the more truth I see in that.
David Pisarra is a family law attorney focusing on father’s rights and men’s Issues in the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (310) 664-9969.