Monday, November 30, 2009

When did we stop thinking for ourselves...

And letting our kids think for themselves.

That which is discussed in the following blog post is of a sensitive nature. Sensitive because parents, rightfully so, want to protect their kids from harm. However, I, and many others, are beginning to wonder where the protection mentality will end. This blog is NOT having a go at any of my loving, conscientious parent friends who only want their children to be happy and healthy - this is merely a blog questioning and discussing the lengths to which we, as a society, are going to protect children from the world and themselves.

When you have a baby, you whole view of the world changes! Quite literally, you see the world with new eyes, you baby's eyes, eyes of wonder and innocence, and inexperience. Suddenly the world seems a lot bigger and, for some parents, a helluva lot scarier!

For some reason, that might be explained by media scaremongering, or by advances in technology that allows to feel more in control, parents these days seem MORE afraid of losing their babies than any other generation before them.

Luckily for us, technology is constantly offering new and exciting (and often expensive) ways to protect our children!

Take car seats, for example, fantastic inventions! I'm a fan of them for many reasons. Not only do they prevent your baby or child from being hurled through a windscreen in the event of an accident, but they allow the child to see out the window and prevent the child (mostly) from climbing into you lap while your driving - or wrestling with their brother in the back seat as I was prone to do on occassion.

The laws on child restraints are constantly being tweeked. Now children have to be in child restraints in cars until their 7th birthday. Many, many people think this is great. What concerns me is that it seems to give drivers who aren't carting around children the false sense of security that it is ok to hoon about because you're far less likely to kill a child who is strapped into a sturdy carseat in a car with sorround airbags... What next, roll cages in cars? I think it's probably inevitable.

Car seats aren't a legal requirement in Victorian taxi cabs - this is because drivers refuse to carry them, under the argument that a cab driver can't be expected to carry every variety of capsule, carseat or booster required for different ages and stages. Fair enough, I say... I take cabs every single week and more often than not have some combination of children with me. What I resent though is being lectured by cab drivers for not providing my own car seat for my child, or children.

On one occassion, Dave and I were taking Erik and Luey on a holiday interstate. Erik was 3 and Luey was 1. The cab driver spent the entire 35 minute drive to the airport telling us we didn't love our children because we hadn't taken car seats to put in her cab! We asked her if she thought we should be trying to haul two small children, a stroller, a port-a-cot, and two suitcases AS WELL AS two carseats with us to Adelaide. She agreed that would be very difficult and suggested maybe we just shouldn't go on a holiday if we couldn't manage to take the car seats as well as the rest of our stuff and ourselves.

Is this the solution? Just don't do anything that might incur some level of risk? I asked because everything has some level of risk. On the Free Range Kids Blog it is pointed out that while there is a 1 in 1.5 million risk of your child being kidnapped and killed by a stranger, there is a far greater chance of your child being injured or killed while driving in the car with you - and that's in the US, so the risk of being kidnapped and killed in Australia is probably even smaller than 1 in 1.5 million.

But I'm not arguing that you should put a backpack on three year old Sammy's back and tell him to find his own way to kinder and you'll see him when he gets home. My house is full of safety items ranging from kiddie gates to prevent my babies from getting underfoot while we cook in the kitchen to spoons that change colour when heated to prevent Ari from burning his lips on his cereal in the morning (because, yk, I couldn't just test the cereal on my own lips).

A recent change in laws that started me thinking about all of this was the new law that it is illegal to leave your children in a car unattended for ANY length of time. This law came in after kids were found dead or dying in superheated cars on stinking hot summer days while mum or dad popped into the milkbar (or the pub, mind you), and after other kids were found to be left OVERNIGHT in cars in Casino carparks while mum and dad fed their gambling habits.

The law in itself may save lives, and that is a good thing, but isn't it pathetic that there NEEDS to be a law to enforce what is essentially commonsense? And the law now also prevents commonsense from taking place. Parents are now, no longer, allowed to assess risk levels for themelves. There will be no more tolerance for letting little Emily finish her nap in the car in the driveway of your own home with the car doors open on a mild day because, well, you just never know when you might electricute yourself in the house and Emily might wake up and let herself out of her car seat and wonder off onto the road while you lay in a coma inside - or what if some idiot runs off the road and smashes into you car in the driveway - OR what if there really is extra-terrestrial life out there and they pick that very day to invade earth and shoot the car with their killer ray!

Yes, I'm getting silly, but so is this "what if" obsession our society has when it comes to keeping our children safe. All the foods and drinks you can't have when you're pregnant in case they harm your baby. You're much safer not getting pregnant, for your baby's safety.

Another anecdote from my childhood, for your entertainment, bear with me, it does added to this line of thinking.

When I was 13 and my brother was 11, we lived in a small village in the Artic circle on the north-west coast of Iceland. One summer's day we decided to take our four year old cousin and go and play in an abandoned fish-drying hut on the edge of the local garbage dump. My brother's (untrustworthy) friend had told us his father owned the hut and it was ok for us to play there. I can't remember what we were playing, but at some point we decided we'd "cook" some lunch, or try to get warm (summer days in Iceland are a balmy 13 degree celsius or something like that), so we found a scrap sheet of tin and layered sticks and cardboard and suchlike onto it, and then lit a fire with the matches my brother always seemed to have on hand. The fire was lovely and warm.

It seems some factory workers nearby saw our little fire and decided that it was dangerous so close to the rubbish dump so they came over and told us to put it out and throw the remains down to them (we were on the second story of the hut, sitting in an opening in the wall - nothing to prevent us falling from the second floor mind you, LOL - so, we did what they said and they went back to work and we went downstairs to play some more.

After a while, we decided it was time to go home for lunch. My brother when to open the door but it was stuck. Sometimes that happen, so he hopped out the window at the side of the hut and went around to pull the door open for me and my four year old cousin.

Suddenly I hear him yelling and crying and panicked, but I couldn't understand what he was yelling at me, so I hoisted my cousin out the side window and then got myself out and we came around the front of the hut and found the entire front wall was aflame.

Black smoked billowed into the air above us and very soon we heard a fire truck coming. Workers from the factory came running and told us to get out of there so we ran some distance away and watched as the flames took the rest of the hut in a matter of minutes.

To this day I'm convinced that had we been left to our own devices, we would have made sure that fire was properly extinguished and the hut would not have burned down, but instead we deferred to the adults - the higher authority - because that was the right thing to do, and they obviously didn't make sure all the embers were out.

When we put someone or something else in charge of our safety or that of our children, we slip into a mindset that isn't as alert.

And will we hear parents saying, "Hey, there's no law that specifically states I can't feed my child dog poo for dinner, and until there is one, I'll just keep feeding my child dog poo because it MUST be ok if there isn't a law saying it's not..." You know, because obviously parents now need governments to tell them what is ok and what is not ok when it comes to commonsense in parenting.

But more than this, we're now raising children who see danger at every turn and feel helpless to protect themselves because we constantly tell them it's better just not to live a full life than to risk losing your life. It's better not to go on a holiday than to risk being killed in the cab on the way to the airport because you can't carry a car seat whereever you go. It's better not to play outside in your own yard than to risk being kidnapped because mum and dad don't have time to sit out there with you and watch you. It's better not to ride a bike than to risk falling off your bike and breaking your arm.

And while we're at it, don't co-sleep because you might smother your baby, but don't you dare put your baby in a cot because then it might smother itself in the bumpers or the blankets. Don't wear your baby in a sling because it might fall out of the sling, but don't put it in a pram because the pram might roll under a train. Don't vaccinate because your might cause serious damage or illness to your child down the track, but don't NOT vaccinate because your child might die from complications of a childhood illness. Don't homeschool because your child will become isolated and turn into the unibomber, but don't send them to school because they will be bullied and turned into those kids from Columbine.

Better still, just don't have kids because whatever you do, you're going to regret it.


Rachael said...

Great post. Obviously we can't have laws for everything, but at the same time commensense isn't something everyone has or can be taught...

It's about knowing your own kids though too and what level of risk and responsibility THEY can handle, and trusting them when they let you know they can handle more.

Certainly I'm less relaxed than some when it comes to trying to prevent injury (really more than anything it's about not wanting to drag 3 kids to an ED for hours on end lol), but they make their own choices on many things which I feel are way too micromanaged by some parents/teachers.

One example is at kinder the kids are told what order to eat their food %!@$#% shits me no end! I'm all for giving kids choices that can cause no harm...why do we have to decide everything for them? How will they learn to make choices if we never let them?

More questions than answers there I think!

katef said...

It's an interesting topic...

It shitted me no end when I mentioned online that we wanted to buy our kids a trampoline and I got heaps of emails with stats on how many kids injure themselves on trampolines and how dangerous they are, and OMG if we couldn't afford double the price for a crappy springless one we were terrible unsafe parents.

Yet I didn't get a single email when I said I was buying my kids a bike....

I am a worrier so I over think risks a lot but I try really hard to let go and let my kids experience life for themselves... risks, breaks and all...

After all Z knocked out three teeth at the library, maybe we should ban kids from libraries??

Tho I do think you need information to make judgements about some things - so things like car seat laws etc, are a lot to do with education of the general public. Some people will never learn some will go over the top...lets hope more will fall somewhere in the middle and let kids experience life.

Leah said...

I think the problem is we equate safety choices with moral choices. Obviously the moral thing to do is to care for your children, part of which is make safety decisions on their behalf. But it doesn't fly backwards that all safety decisions must match mine in order for other parents to be satisfy the moral requirement of caring for their children.

Good Job!