Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Superhero Island

The other day my husband, Casey, asked me how old our  eight-year-old son had to be to send him to Albertsons for some fried chicken and a quart of motor oil.  He was kidding of course. 

Sort of.

We’re within easy walking distance from Albertsons. We’re in a fairly urban but family-friendly “hipster” community. “What are the odds that he’ll get snatched up?” he asked.  “The real odds, not the trumped up odds we get from too much 'Law and Order'?”  

But it was a joke. Christ, we’d never do that. People would talk.

As  parents, we spend a ridiculous amount of time second-guessing the decisions we make for our children, from what kind cereal to feed them in the morning, to what kind of bike helmet to buy them, to what vaccines to give them. Schools, spanking, video games, potty training, car seats, booster seats, front seats. What happened to the days when you could just toss your kids in the back of your rusty pick-up -no seat at all - and head to the beach? (Calm down. I'm not advocating this. I'm just sayin'....)

So Casey and I have decided to move to a deserted island. We plan to raise our kids as superheroes, hone their unique powers, and drop 'em off in Times Square when they're 18 just to see if they've fared any worse for not being shielded from disaster at every turn. We'll send postcards from time to time to let you know how things are going. In the meantime, could you do me a favor?  

Take 1 minute to think about any decision you've ever made for your kid that you're pretty sure you made out of duress. Feel free to list more than one if, like me, you second-guess every decision. 

Thanks. And stay posted for news from the Island. 


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  1. There are very clear laws on the books about all sorts of child endangerment. If an alcoholic buckles his kids into their car seats and drinks 4 shots of whiskey before hitting the road, it does not matter if he thinks he is the best driver in the world, or that he handles his liquor better than other people; the law says he is endangering his children on top of the other drivers on the road. If there were web sites where he can read about how drinking calms the nerves and allows safer driving, the judge would not think he was "well informed" and making good personal choices about how to raise his children.

    In other areas of our lives there are no clear laws yet. In New Mexico it was legal until 2007 to allow children to ride on or drive off-road 4-wheelers and motorcycles with no helmet on. As these vehicles became more available to children and the death toll mounted, the legislature eventually took action and in 2007 it became illegal for children under the age of 18 to ride without head and eye protection:
    Adults are still free to ride helmet-free in New Mexico.

    In most areas of our lives "common sense" is expected to be applied. It is legal to take your kids sledding a the park, but if you send them down a steep hill into the trees, you could be questioned.

    But not all humans have the same type of "common sense". What seems safe or sane to some of us seems decidedly insane and unsafe to others.

  2. This past weekend, dozens of longboard skate board racers raced at speeds up to 55 MPH on the road to our local ski area, in a sanctioned race. Nobody was hurt. Meanwhile, in town, a 21 year old college student died from a head injury skateboarding on a sidewalk at walking speed. Are helmet laws taking away our personal freedoms and choices? Yes. But they also save lives.

  3. You wrote "not all humans have the same type of "common sense". What seems safe or sane to some of us seems decidedly insane and unsafe to others." This is interesting because in a lot of cases "common sense" is a cultural or even generational concept. Children are way, way more protected than they used to be (at least in my community). Think of the days when kids could walk to a friend's house alone, or ride their bikes to the corner store. My cousin lets her 7 and 10 year old sons do just that with some neighborhood friends. She said other parents in the neighborhood think she's nuts. But are our streets really less safe for children nowadays, or have we just become better informed about the dangers - maybe too well informed? she believes that letting kids take some reasonable risks, allowing them some independence and the ability to use their own common sense is more important than protecting them from lurking danger. I agree. I don't think it's necessary or appropriate to create laws around every risk out there. Nor do I believe that government agencies necessarily have more common sense than I do as an individual. There will always be people who make bad choices and parent badly, with or without laws.

  4. I agree 100%. I don't think anyone is proposing we need laws for every risk out there. The current "cutting edge" where laws are being changed are those right on the edge of what our society would consider criminal negligence, where many children die or are permanently crippled in very easily preventable situations. Many parents say "I didn't have a helmet when I was biking as a kid, and I am fine." but the statistics show that traumatic brain injury from bike and skateboard accidents is a large problem that is very easily and economically preventable, and at some point the nurses and doctors caring for vegetative children say "there ought to be a law...", and the states that pay for permanent care of the disabled agree.

    Children do learn from getting bumps and bruises. And there will always be grey areas in between what society considers clearly acceptable risk (walking without a helmet) and clearly unacceptable risk (downhill ski racing without a helmet).

    The risk for an HIV seropositive person not getting treatment during pregnancy and then breastfeeding their child, results in roughly a 25% chance that the child will die of AIDS before age 5. In my opinion that is clearly unacceptable risk. But the costs and issues associated with reducing that risk to near zero are not quite a simple as strapping on a helmet.

    In both cases, the landscape changes over time in many ways. Bicycle helmets for children have become very much more available and affordable over time, and the treatments available to prevent mother to infant transmission of HIV have also been improved over time.