Helicopter Parenting: What are we teaching kids?

No parent wants their child to get hurt. It’s a parent’s worst nightmare to hear the wail of their child who has fallen and hurt himself, and even worse yet if there is no wail. We go to great lengths to protect our offspring from injuring themselves, but have we gone too far?

Parents are bombarded with frightening messages every day:

Around 10,000 babies injured each year from falls from cribs, playpens and bassinets


Safety helmets for children may protect our little ones from bumping their heads while learning to walk, but what else are they teaching the kids?

It’s enough to make even the most level-headed parent think twice about what kinds of protection devices they need.  Where there is a perceived need, there will be some entrepreneur ready and willing to make a buck off that paranoia.

Baby protection devices have sprung up, enticing parents to spend ever greater amounts of money to keep their children safe.

  • Learning to walk in a world of hard surfaces can turn a special moment into a heart rendering incident in a flash. Thudguard® takes  protection straight to the infant’s head giving you great peace of mind.
  • With motor skills that are not yet fully developed, what babies need is added protection. The Baby No Bumps Safety Helmet® is designed to protect your baby from harsh bumps on the head while learning to crawl and walk.
  • ‘The Oopsie’ Baby Head Guard was created as head protection to prevent the many bumps and bruises suffered from many falls whilst in the early stages of walking.
  • With proper use and supervision, SOFT TOP offers peace of mind for you & freedom for the young explorer.

Do we really need to wrap our children in bubble wrap to keep them safe? Will that truly work?

Seriously? Babies fall when they are learning to walk. It happens. OK, I’m relatively certain there is some small, infinitesimally minute number of children who are actually permanently injured or killed due to a fall while learning to crawl or walk, but isn’t that the risk we take when we have children?

Do we really need to wrap our kids in bubble wrap and put helmets on their heads to prevent them from getting hurt while learning to walk? Or playing in the sandbox?

Helmets while riding a bike or playing football are good, reasonable precautions to take. Wearing a helmet while learning to walk? Now that’s just ridiculous.

What kind of message do we, as parents, want to send to our children? I know the message parents who use baby helmets want to give is one of love – that they love their child so much they will do whatever it takes to keep their child safe.  But is that really the message the child gets?

Or does the child come away fearing the big bad world out there? Does the bubble wrapped child grow up with the idea that nothing is safe – not even his own home? Is the idea of danger permanently etched in the child’s psyche making him forever  unable to feel safe and secure?

Of course, there are no answers to these questions. The idea of baby helmets to protect our little ones from bumps and scrapes is relatively new and there are no long-term studies done on the effects of them. But still, it leads me to wonder.

The message I want to send to my children is that life is there for the living. It’s meant to be lived. And yes, living means taking some risks. Life doesn’t come with a money-back guarantee. It doesn’t come with an instruction book either. There are inherent risks in this thing we call life.

As I see it, the best preparation for adulthood is childhood. As children, kids learn how to take care of themselves by getting hurt. Little Johnnie touches a hot stove and gets burned – and learns that the stove is hot and to avoid it in the future. Missy cuts herself with a knife and learns to be careful around sharp blades. All kids fall down and hurt themselves. And hurt themselves again. And again. Through it all, they learn about their world and how to prevent those painful episodes.

If we take those opportunities away from children when they are babies, they’ll grow up without those lessons. All of a sudden we have an adult who has no clue how to use a knife, even though he’s got the strength and coordination to seriously injure himself with one. We have adults who don’t know how to safely navigate through their world – they’ve never been given the chance to learn those lessons.

Is that really what we want for our children? Do we want to guarantee them growing up “safe” only to jeopardize their future because they don’t know how to deal with danger?

Or is it  better to walk them through danger step-by-step in their childhood and help them learn coping strategies for dealing with it while they are still young and have their whole lives ahead of them?

As for me – I vote for the latter.

books by Nancy Sathre-Vogel

About Nancy Sathre-Vogel

After 21 years as a classroom teacher, Nancy Sathre-Vogel finally woke up and realized that life was too short to spend it all with other people's kids. She and her husband quit their jobs and, together with their twin sons, climbed aboard bicycles to see the world. They enjoyed four years cycling as a family - three of them riding from Alaska to Argentina and one exploring the USA and Mexico. Now they are back in Idaho, putting down roots, enjoying life at home, and living a different type of adventure. It's a fairly sure bet that you'll find her either writing on her computer or creating fantastical pieces with the beads she's collected all over the world.

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4 Responses to Helicopter Parenting: What are we teaching kids?

  1. Véronique April 24, 2012 at 3:37 am #

    off topic, I just sent you an e-mail (from Germany), could you look in your spam box if you don’t find it.
    I live in the south of the black forest, near Basel. You’re more than welcome in our home when you’ll ride your bikes in our area.

  2. Yvette April 25, 2012 at 4:53 am #

    There was an interesting article last summer in the Atlantic that was basically focusing on how there are a lot of young adults in their 20s now going into therapy because they’re unhappy, and when psychologists checked into their childhoods it turns out they actually have had GREAT childhoods. ie what parents are “supposed” to give their kids- good schools and encouraged to do activities but no hard pressure if they decide to stop, intervention when a kid got teased, etc etc.

    Apparently psychologists have sorta realized that it’s not that the people in this new group are depressed it’s just that live has always been on the road to achievement and resolution, so when you just get to normal life and realize it can be disappointing they didn’t know how to deal with the fact that it’s not all awesome and perfect all the time. (One thing I think some of the travel snake oil salesmen never address if you know what I mean, but that’s another story.)

    Anyway it was an interesting read and you should look it up if you’re interested. 🙂


  1. walking helmets | aliens and strangers - April 24, 2012

    […] read as much yesterday in Helicopter Parenting: What Are We Teaching Our Kids?  The author, Nancy — whose logged over 17,000 bicycle miles with her family* — links […]

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