Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

May 16, 2013

Summer safety routine: Parents’ overprotective instincts justified

— — When I was a kid I had a perception that my parents were a bit overprotective, especially when it came to safety. They abhorred trampolines and maybe — just maybe — would let me jump on one at a friend’s house if I could guarantee there would be no more than two people on at a time and a parent would be supervising the entire thing. Mom has always had a fear of four-wheelers and we were never allowed to ride those either, even though plenty of kids in the neighborhood did so without helmets and shoes.

Then there was the entire routine we had to go through before we got on our bikes. Dad was very particular about what kinds of bikes he would buy for us and a lot of effort went in to making sure the seat was secure and there were plenty of reflectors on our bikes. Even so, we really weren’t allowed out on them past dusk.

We were taken to several bicycle safety events held by our local police and fire departments. We would race the courses they had set up with hazard cones and get stickers and those red plastic fire hats as souvenirs. They would also talk with parents about boring adult stuff.

Every year we would go through the same fight about helmets. Mom and Dad would secure them on so tight it was hard to swallow. We would fight and loosen the straps, only for Mom and Dad to tighten them again. Then they would shove our head around and make sure the helmet wasn’t too wobbly or in danger of falling off.

The biggest argument was over knee and elbow pads. One year, my parents bought me the most hideous knee and elbow pads I had ever seen. I was told I had to wear them whenever I was on my bike. I argued that none of my friends ever wore these pads and hardly any of them were required to wear helmets. That argument didn’t work.

It was hard to keep the pads on and sometimes they slipped or felt clunky against my arms. Still, Mom and Dad insisted I wear them to prevent any scrapes and bruises while out on the cul-de-sac in front of our house. We were only allowed to drive to the end of the street and back, so that we would not be out of sight of the house. That didn’t leave much space for us to get in trouble.

When it came to the whole helmet-padding debacle I was lucky that I wasn’t the one waging a major war with my parents. That responsibility, for once, fell to my younger brother.

He was always outside on his bicycle, skateboard or scooter during the warmer months of the year and if either of my parents caught a glimpse of him without his helmets or padding, it would be a thorough tongue lashing. He always had the same argument: “None of my friends have to wear them.”

My parents went beyond the age-old parental response of “If your friends jumped off a bridge would you do it?” After all, I think my parents knew if my brother’s friends jumped off a bridge they would be following his lead. Instead, they handed down statistics about hospital stays, brain injuries and other catastrophes that befell helmet-less riders. The arguments usually ended with neither side satisfied.

It’s probably a good thing my parents got my brother to wear his helmet and pads when they could. When he was 17 he was diagnosed as having Hemophilia B or Christmas disease, a less severe form of hemophilia that causes longer bruising, prevents blood from clotting as quickly and can be dangerous for those who suffer from severe blood loss as a result of injury. For years we thought my brother’s forgetfulness was why he couldn’t remember all of the bruises and cuts he had gotten while out playing with his friends. It turns out he just bruises more easily than the rest of us.

Honestly, it wasn’t until I learned to drive that I started to understand what I thought was my parents’ paranoia over bicycle helmets. I was suddenly very thankful for bicycle helmets and good brakes when I was driving home one afternoon and a small kid on his bike jetted out in front of me. I barely had enough room to stop in time and the kid, oblivious that he had just ridden out in front of my car, kept on riding along the side of the road. I, of course, had put my car in park and was waiting for my heart palpitations to die down before moving again. Even if the youngster did not understand the danger, I had realized how easily he could have left a child-sized dent on the hood of my car.

I’ve gotten over my opinion that helmets are “nerdy,” like I thought as a kid, mainly because I have seen what kind of damage the human head can encounter when not protected. I may not be able to count on everyone else to do the right thing, but I know protecting myself is the first step in the right direction.

Kate Coil is a reporter at the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at kcoil@bdtonline.com.

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