Letting go of Safety-obsession

March 23rd, 2015

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Everybody loves this quote. You can find it on maritime sales websites and outdoorsy magazines. (It’s usually credited to Mark Twain, but was discovered by scholars to have nothing to do with Twain, and likely written by H. Jackson Browne in the 1990’s. The author, not the musician. But I DIGRESS)

We LONG for our kids to sail on that theoretical boat, but not without a waterproof navigation system, a helmet, and a GPS tracker. You see, two essential goals of modern parenting are fundamentally juxtaposed. For us to be successful parents, we must help our children create their own enlightened, strong, successful personalities; to take risks and learn to fail with grace. BUT! We also want to keep them from social and physical harm. And from the point that buckle them into their first tiny five-point restraint car seat, we sincerely believe we can.

The clash is incredibly evident in the way parents interact with organized sports. OF COURSE we want the social and physical benefits of team play including friendships and problem solving and exercise. But what if they get hurt? There are injuries inherent in any impact sport, but nothing gets more media attention than football, because of the fear of concussions (basketball is the second leading concussion-causing sport)

However, even though (USA Today) an estimated 1.35 million kids are injured playing sports each year, only about 164,000 of them suffer a concussion. Considering 35 million children play organized sports each year, just .005% of young athletes are injuring their heads.

Yet a well-publicized statistic from a recent NBC news report asserts that since 2005, “the concussion for high school athletes has more than doubled.”

So which of these two seemingly opposing trends do we trust? If you accept the research findings of author and “Free-Range Parenting” advocate Lenore Skenazy, it’s the scariest one.

“Parents in the past 20-25 years indulge in ‘extravagant worry’…inflating remote possibilities into looming threats that we think we have to watch out for,” she writes.

The current safety device under debate is an impact sensor in children’s football helmets. While the NFL so far isn’t willing to test them, a handful of high school and recreational sports programs are piloting the sensors, which adhere inside the helmets and communicate via handheld device with athletic trainers on the sideline (you know parents will figure out a way to hijack the signal onto their own phones).

The devices cost between $75-$125.00, and sensors light up when an athlete takes a hit to the head at 80G or more. The player checks in with the coach or trainer before being put back in the game.

One school administrator who opposes the use of sensors asserts that opponents could use the sensors to manipulate results: “... targeting a specific player not to injure, but to remove him from the game from a strategic standpoint.”

As I read more about helmet sensors, most articles pointed to a conspiracy by powerhouse manufacturer Riddell to keep the monopoly on helmets. But, hey, this is a blog, not a Dateline NBC episode, so I’m just wrapping this up.

Grown-ups ruin playing. We get involved, and we put our adult-influenced, liability-focused rationale and need for control rationale all over young athletes who are trying to belong and have fun. Give it back to the kids. Let them sail away from the safe harbor. It’s cool if you want to still be able to see the boat, but trust them to get out there.

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