“Dangerism” — How A Society Decides What’s Dangerous

Hi Readers! Many of you are already familiar with Gever Tulley, the guy who runs the Tinkering School and did the famous TED speech on the “5 Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Kids Do.” (Recently expanded into a book, “Fifty Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Children Do.”)

Now he’s come up with a very cool new term, “Dangerism,” which is the idea of looking at the things a particular society at a particular time considers dangerous. He gives some great examples of, for instance, a mom who lets her kids spend the day roaming the countryside behind her house with rifles, because, “There’s a lot less trouble to get into out there in the woods than there is at the mall.” Another example: Many American kids won’t own a knife until they get their first apartment. But Inuit kids start using knives at age three, because they’re expected to learn how to cut themselves some blubber.

So I started making a list in my own mind of things we have newly decided are dangerous — many of them documented on this blog: Recess when it’s cold out. Running on the playground. Walking to school. Waiting at the bus stop. Crawling. (Hence, baby knee-pads.) Boy Scouts whittling with knives. Girl Scouts toasting marshmallows without first putting one knee on the ground. (Yes, that’s the rule now: One knee on the ground or the dangers of keeling into the fire are far too great.)

I’d love to expand this list — or maybe make two: One list of the things that our culture is “dangerizing.” And maybe another of the things that are NOT considered overly dangerous in other, less scaredy- cat cultures. Got some ideas? Add ’em! Thanks! — Lenore

131 Responses

  1. How about things that aren’t considered dangerous but probably should be? Like driving while talking on the cell phone. This one if finally gaining some traction (thanks Oprah http://www.oprah.com/oprahshow/Watch-the-Full-Hour-Americas-New-Deadly-Obsession-Video) but a lot of people still don’t ‘get’ it. But I’d bet that some of those same parents who talk, or even text, while driving would never let their kids walk instead.

  2. riding bikes out of earshot of mom. or at dusk. or without full body armor

  3. Climbing stairs–so many three-year-olds still can’t climb stairs. Sleeping next to baby–totally done in other cultures, and our culture has dangerized it. (Dangerous only if mom obese, drunk, lots of blankets and pillows, etc.) Diving boards. (I remember going to pools that had diving boards–now, I don’t even know any place that has them.) Blocks for swim meets (they are no longer permanent fixtures at many pools; too dangerous). School-aged children sitting in cars without five-point harnesses. (Do I care about my child less because at some point it seems ridiculous for her to remain in a carseat? She’s almost 8 and not in a carseat, but promotion is all over the place about how I should buy a five-point harness that would fit a kid her height.) Going to the bathroom alone at a restaurant, like Starbucks. (I had someone very agitated when my kid did that.) Going to get one’s own water or to throw out one’s own trash at the grocery store (I had many people concerned for my 4 1/2 year-old when he did that at Whole Foods–a place we go far too often so it knows it like it’s home).

    Learning how to swim. Now, it is concerned so wrong to teach kids as infants (germs? cold? trauma?). For that, my youngest is not pool safe, and my oldest didn’t learn until she was over five. (My mom claims I was pool safe as an infant, and not traumatized–I even have a memory of this, and have never been afraid in a pool.)

  4. Some things I let my 3-year-olds do that get me funny looks / comments: go to the bathroom on their own (including away from home, if it’s not filthy); step onto the escalator and ride it; sleep downstairs and roam the house in the a.m. while I’m in bed upstairs (never used a monitor); cut their own food with a table knife; eat from glass plates/glasses just like everyone else; lock the door to the bathroom / bedroom if they want to; play in the yard while I’m inside; walk without a tether in public; go out without gloves if they want to; eat snow; have their own (earned) money and choose how to spend it; cut with scissors; plant, water, pick, wash, and eat their own veggies; touch domestic animals without de-germifying; run free at the playground/park (Mom does watch in case someone gets stuck hanging high above the ground); hike the ravine/hill behind our house (when I’m near); etc.

  5. Climbing trees. Roaming the neighborhood in packs. Pocket knives. Riding bikes to get somewhere – the store, the library, school. Riding the bus alone.

  6. Walk. EAT! I had someone freak out because I handed my one year old a slice of cheese without first pulling it to pieces. He stuck almost
    half of it in his mouth, they freaked, and a minute later he pulled it back out -minus a decent bite. Honest, I know my baby, people. And if he messes up, he is WAY more likely to gag than choke. And he was IN MY ARMS. Seriously, I don’t get the worry here. 😛

  7. Re: ‘taking the bus alone’ there’s a PBS documentary on ‘boys’ called Raising Cain. At one point they profile an 11 year old who’s solo commute to a safer school takes 2 buses and 2 subways. It struck me that our measure of ‘dangerous’ has a socioeconomic component.

  8. Teeter-totters and merry-go-rounds at playgrounds – I loved them when I was in elementary school, but my 11-year-old has never even seen one.

  9. My MIL’s little joke about babies and crawling is “when their knees start to really hurt then they decide to walk.” I don’t know if that is based in reality at all but I like the thought behind it.

  10. When I ask an overly-concerned parent what they were allowed to do when they were kids, I usually get a wistful litany of normal kid stuff. When I ask if they had fun doing that stuff, there is always a dreamy “yes” followed by “but we can’t allow our kids to do that!” When I point out the double standard — you had fun but they can’t — I either get a thoughtful debate or an end to the discussion.

    Really, if we survived being kids, why can’t today’s kids? I’m so tired of the new rules coming from shrieking hysterics.

    It’s very nice that we all comment on this and tsk-tsk over it, but how to we make positive change on a larger level? I’d be interested to know.

  11. Fire. Our ability to control it makes us unique, allowed civilization to occur. But now – flame retardant Christmas trees, flame retardant (chemical-soaked) children’s everything, “candle warmers”, battery-powdered jack-o-lanterns…

    Not that I oppose being careful. But there’s a big difference between leaving candles unattended (dangerous) and lighting candles at all (safe). Lighting firecrackers in a dry field vs. a campfire in a stone ring.

    Fire is one of the most basic human tools – the use of it must not be lost!

  12. In Connecticut in response to the first death from a school bus crash since the 1970s some are proposing for buses to be required to have seat belts.
    In that same time frame two houses in the same Connecticut town have been hit by meteorites making school bus deaths as rare as meteorite strikes.
    Older kids wouldn’t have trouble unbuckling them in an emergency but wouldn’t wear them and young kids would need an adult (possibly injured) to undo them.

  13. Someone mentioned eating snow, and I’ll agree with that. I had someone tell me how awful I was to let my kid eat snow. Also, just playing outside. I know someone who doesn’t let her 12-year-old outside unattended.

  14. Oh I thought of something else. I let my 7-year-old walk five houses down to play with a friend (her mom called for a playdate) and they were stunned that she was allowed to walk so far. So stunned that they gave her a ride home. So walking, even short distances, is considered unsafe. No wonder kids are having weight problems.

    We used to ride our bikes in the street in our neighborhood growing up, but I never see kids riding bikes in the street here, and we have a very safe, self-contained neighborhood. No through traffic.

  15. N, I feel your pain! I let my 11 yr old twins walk two blocks to their friend’s house unattended and the friend’s mom ALWAYS walks them back.

    Another thing that’s been “dangerized”: climbing trees. We have this great park near our house with some wonderful old oak trees and my kids are the only kids in the neighborhood that climb them, as far as I’ve seen. My daughter loves climbing as I did when I was her age. I once had a parent ask, “What happens if she falls and breaks a bone?” I answered, “It will have been worth it!”

  16. No need for me to add anything. I think everyone got it all.

  17. Someone above asked the very wise question of how to make positive change on a larger level. I think this is where the posts and discussions here should go. Otherwise it’s just more preaching to the choir. A couple things that come to mind:

    1. Ways to encourage sanity about safety at school and working with your child’s school to change overly cautious rules (no recess when it’s chilly! no running on the playground!).

    2. Working with other parents and creating networks. The one thing I never see mentioned is that children are more vulnerable today because if they’re out without parents they are frequently COMPLETELY ALONE. No neighborhoods full of roaming kids to keep an eye on each other, to run and tell a parent if someone’s hurt, to discourage bullying by older kids. There really is strength in numbers and we need to work locally to rebuild those numbers.

    3. Normalizing the playground experience with other parents. If I sit on the bench at the park reading and expect my kid to go play with other kids, inevitably she ends up playing with someone else’s parents too. This means she’s not getting the kid on kid interaction that helps develop social and problem solving skills and I fee like a lazy jerk.

    Regional / National
    4. Changing the excessive fear-based media culture that tries to terrify us and injecting balance in coverage.

    5. Furthering initiatives like that “get out an play” government thing — maybe a “safe park” media campaign that deflates some of the myths about safety.

    6. Supporting and communicating scientific research about child development, injury rates, socialization, and development.

  18. Celebrating Christmas.

  19. Cooking. Start with baked potatoes– an eight-year-old can certainly learn to bake a potato. Progress to brownies (from a mix), then stir-fried vegetables, pancakes, and grilled cheese sandwiches.

  20. Oh yes, cooking, and also being on kid-powered wheels without a helmet.

    My kid sister was cooking real food, on the stove, unsupervised, at age 4. My kids are 3 and I can see letting them start, with supervision, pretty soon. And when they want to do it alone, it will depend on how responsible they have proven themselves.

    As for wheels, I assume there is a bike helmet law around here, because I don’t think I’ve ever seen a child riding a bike without a helmet in my neighborhood. Of course that was unheard of when I was a kid; I did fall and clunk my head; maybe I lost a couple of IQ points, I don’t know, but that was probably best for all affected. I do have helmets for my kids, because I don’t plan on being fined over that. But they will only have to wear them along the street; and since we live at the top of a steep hill, I might actually prefer it that way for now.

    Another thing. Riding in the back seat of a car. This is a huge pet peeve of mine. They used to say just a lap belt was sufficient protection for all back seat riders (well, assuming they can hold their heads up). But somehow, shoulder belts became standard. Now it turns out that shoulder belts can behead children who are too old for car seats. So in my state, we are required to have our kids in “booster seats” until age 8 or 80 lbs. My 3-year-old is 25 lbs if that, so she may have to drive to her prom in a booster seat. Why can’t we just remove the shoulder belts and be done with it? Sounds like a racket to me.

  21. JB, Celebrating Christmas, LOL! I’ve also recently been informed that it’s wrong for me to talk about politics in front of my 3-year-olds, lest they fail to develop the ability to think for themselves by age 18! Ha! Maybe that is the person who should live with my daughters when I fly the coop after their 13th birthdays . . . .

  22. I say start much earlier with cooking. My niece 5 yo and nephew 2 yo can make muffins with supervision. Niece was able to tell me the measurements (I double checked the recipe) and showed me how to turn on the new oven. I had to take things in and out because she can’t reach over the door safely yet. It will be another year or so at the rate she is growing.

    They can also sort clothing to be washed. Sis wishes they made child vacuums that actually worked because then Nephew would vacuum the house daily. (He is to short to use the one she has)

  23. rachel, on January 25th, 2010 at 5:54 am Said:
    Cooking. Start with baked potatoes– an eight-year-old can certainly learn to bake a potato. Progress to brownies (from a mix), then stir-fried vegetables, pancakes, and grilled cheese sandwiches.

    Screw the mix, teach ’em from scratch!

  24. Regarding the idea of changing things on a large scale. I’d say more people need to do what Lenore is doing. Spread the word! The more people there are spreading the message on TV, radio and in parenting magazines, the bigger the chance for the helicopter parent to notice: “Hey their child didn’t die from baking brownies and playing on the front lawn. Perhaps it is safe.”

  25. @Kimberly
    Friends of mine bought a new Dyson vacuum cleaner a couple of years ago and it came with a kid sized one that actually worked as a free gift. It might be possible to find one.

  26. How about dealing with strangers in any situation without mom/dad there to intercede.
    Examples include going through check out lines, answering questions at the Dr’s office, giving a waiter an order or requesting something, carrying on a friendly conversation with the lady in the next seat on the plane, etc. Absolutely no risk or danger here, but parents always seem to jump in, even with middle school aged kids! Is the chance that kids may have to think for themselves enough to make something too dangerous now?

  27. I let my 6 (soon to be 7) year old daughter 1) make her own breakfast 2)make her own lunch and 3) make her own dinner (GASP!). Granted, it usually consists of peanut butter sandwiches, turkey sandwiches and microwave mac n cheese but still she can make do. She’s creative enough to find something to eat. My mom was shocked when I told her that.. she said my kid was way to young. I was feeding myself at her age! We also let her wash the dishes .. by hand. We don’t have a dishwasher. She also does the garbage as well.. not just the bedroom collection but the kitchen as well. Heck, I sit on the park bench and read while she runs around the playground, plays in the dirt and runs in the rain. No injury yet and if she does get hurt, its a lessoned learned. Run! Be Free! Bleed a little, experiment… learn your limits.

  28. Falling down! Kids are SUPPOSED to fall down, and can become experts before they can walk (and experts at getting themselves up), if we let them. The reaction from bystanders is infuriating. Total strangers even pick them up when they wouldn’t have otherwise cried. Aaaaagh!

  29. When my middle child was almost a year old my husband and I let him have a butter knife at a restaurant (it was completely flat, essentially just for spreading butter and not able to cut ANYTHING) and we had a couple say to us, “Your baby has a knife!” My husband told them, “Yep, I gave it to him.” and turned back to our meal. Meanwhile their three year old was not even allowed to use any utensils at all and was eating with her fingers.

    A couple of years later (at another restaurant) we had let our daughter (1 Year) have a lolly and a woman gasped as our little girl bit off the last bit. She said, “Your daughter just swallowed that sucker whole, she’s going to choke!” The thing was there was only a quarter of an inch left of it by then, and we told her that. “Well, I was taught not to give them candy like that, “she sniffed at me. So I told her, “She’s my third kid and I haven’t managed to kill one yet.”

    I really cannot believe the way people feel they can talk to complete strangers about something so personal as child rearing.

  30. Plastic. I cannot carry my lunch and my kids’ lunches in glass containers. Sorry, folks.

    Also, to add to the person who said sleeping next to your baby/kid, breastfeeding your kid past age one. It’s too bad all those pre-industrial society kids were so scarred by it, huh?

    I find it hard sometimes to distinguish between some of our new phobias and a positive sense of caution. While I mourn being able to let my elementary aged kids ride in the backseat without boosters, I understand that they really are safer that way and it’s a simple, mostly unobtrusive thing to do. On the other hand, some people freak out about keeping their enormous children in carseats as long as possible then act like you’re a horrible person for using the backless booster at 50 lbs. Come on, people.

  31. Cooking indeed. I was cooking aged three years, with proper instruction. The knife is sharp, count your fingers to be sure they are not in the way of the blade. The stove is hot, hold your hand a little way away from the pan, if you can feel heat use a pot holder. Never take a hot pan or pot from a stove yourself, ask a grown up for help.

  32. My daughter joined ski clud at school this year and I have been able to to go with her. I learned to ski when I was about four and went skiing often as a child, but hadn’t been in about 25 years. One thing that has suprised me is seeing how parents are teaching their kids to ski now. I saw one family use hoops- like a hula hoop, to hold on to their tots. Last week I saw a family using a tether- it looked like a leash. It made me try and remember how I learned to ski. I kind of remember going down sometimes with my Dad holding me, but mostly I remember just going. I will admit the hill I learned on was much smaller that the one the ski club is using, but I think it was actually steeper. I know I had some pretty serious wipe outs as a young skiier, which I why both my daughter and I wear helmets, but I never broke anything and I sure did have fun.

  33. @Fengru I’ve never heard anyone argue tht it’s dangerous to breastfeed past 1, it’s just socially unacceptable because no one does it. @Dot I’m not saying there’s a huge need for seatbelts on school buses, but I’ve ALWAYS thought it was weird that there aren’t. I don’t buy the arguments against it: most kids wear their belts when they are in the habit of doing so, and I’ve never met a kid over 4 who can’t fasten and unfasten their belt.

  34. I have to disagree with the person who said kids should not wear helmets while on a bike. No, I didn’t wear one as a child, but 2 years ago, as a middle aged adult, I flipped over my handle bars and smashed my head. Had it not been for my helmet I’d probably be dead. I am a firm believer in helmets while on bikes for everyone.

    As for the car seat thing, my 8 year old rides with NO booster. He’s 4’5 and 60 pounds. The seatbelt fits him perfectly, no danger of decapitation. He does not, however, ride in in the front. He does cook…he’s been cooking pancakes by himself since he was 4. We never covered any outlets in our house, the knives and poisons were within his reach, we just taught him how to use them and what not to do. We don’t buy him toy tools, like a hammer, we give him the real deal and teach him how to use it correctly. He is also allowed to walk, out of my sight, to the homes of his friends. He knows how to tell time, so when I tell him to be back by a certain time, he’s back. It works well.

  35. I don’t know why an obese mother would make sleeping with a baby dangerous. The risk factors of eldery and/or impaired on drugs or alcohol. Obesity doesn’t mean a person is stupid nor is it the equivalent of being on drugs.

    Here’s a new one to me -some schools don’t allow children to serve food from home at birthday parties or whatever – it has to be bought!

  36. My sister and her SIL were out together with their kids. The SIL’s kid was 3 -5 yo. The found out the wait was going to be long at the restaurant. So they left to go to another place, because the kids weren’t up to a long wait.

    As they were walking through the parking lot. The SIL’s boy started choking. Sis grabbed him and started 1st aid. When she couldn’t clear his air way – she yelled at SIL and bystanders to call 911.

    Sis got his airway cleared just as the EMT’s pulled up. The boy had snitched a mint from the bowl on the counter. The EMT’s then start yelling at the terrified boy and crying Mom. They threatened to turn her into CPS for neglect. They seemed to think a child had to be 9 – 10 yo to eat hard candy.

    Sis a social worker pulled her ID out and gave them what for. She also filed a complaint.

    Sis also made a point of teaching her kids to chew candy properly.

  37. SKL – Your post sounds like my post would be…except I can’t let my 4 year old use a public bathroom without me. I do let him use a hacksaw, hammer, powerdrill and switchblade under our supervision… does that balance out the public bathroom thing?! 🙂

    Carol – It’s crazy that the food has to be bought. Many supermarkets cannot guarantee that a cake or cupcakes, or whatever dessert they choose, will be allergen free. They make everything in the same area. It’s just as “risky” as having someone make it at home. If a child is THAT allergic, they should not a.) serve food baked goods or b.) said child should bring in his or her own snack.

  38. I’ve known parents who won’t let their kids ride in the car of a parent they don’t know on a field trip, parents who won’t let their kids go on the field trip at all if they aren’t driving on it, and parents who won’t let kids ride in other people’s cars, period. One time a mom whose daughter I was driving on a field trip left work so she could come over to the school around the time we were leaving for the field trip, carry her daughter’s carseat out to my car, buckle it in the car herself, and implore me to watch over her daughter on the outing. Frankly, I was a little surprised she allowed her daughter out of her sight every day after that display.

    This past summer, on the last day of school, a friend of mine invited the class to come for a swimming party after school, and another mom and I were invited to come and help supervise. About half the kids in the class attended, and one girl’s dad came along. He sat by the side of the pool, didn’t talk to anyone, and watched his daughter like a hawk for the first hour, at which time his wife showed up and, his shift over, he left and went back to work. Mom didn’t talk to any of us either – she just sat near the pool and kept eyes on her daughter for the rest of party.

    I’m all for pool safety, but there were three moms there watching everyone, and these kids were all 9 and 10 years old. Everyone, including the daughter of the watchers, seemed to be a strong swimmer.

    Oh, and today, I sent my 11-year-old son into GameStop by himself to sell them some old games he was no longer playing with. I went into another store close by and then went to GameStop to collect him, only to find that he wasn’t allowed to sell his games to the store without a parent there to give permission. I appreciate the fact that some dishonest kid might try to sell them a game that wasn’t his to sell, but what if he was just an honest kid who rode his bike over to the store to trade in his own games? The assumption is that a kid won’t come in there without an adult, and that any kid who comes in is potentially dishonest. Not a dangerism situation, but I’d put it in the category of “Zero Tolerance” policies that penalize more good kids than bad.

  39. Letting your kid stay in the car while you go to the bank machine.

    Letting your kid stay in the car while you go pay for the gas.

  40. @Tracie,
    I’ve had the GameStop incident happen to me as well, and my son is almost 14!

    I thought of another one: Trying supermarket samples. I had my 11 yr olds with me at Sam’s Club, and, as usual, they took off as soon as we were in the door. They found me about 15 min. later and asked, “Can we walk with you? No one will give us any samples without a parent.” WHAT? I can understand a small child needing permission, what with allergies and all, but honestly, any 11 yr will know what they can and cannot have.

  41. Tracie,

    Your friend had the right idea. 3 parents was probably the perfect number to watch the kids swimming. To many adults are a bigger problem that to few in my experience. Everyone assumes that someone is watching the swimmers, but really no-one is.

    My sister used to have swim parties for Oldest Niece. The parents would insist on staying because other wise “who would watch the kids”.

    Sis knew exactly what would happen. So she put me in charge of watching the swimmers. I didn’t leave the pool unless Sis took over. One year a boy slipped and smacked his head, cutting his scalp. I applied pressure. When his mother gave me the hand for calling her over to deal with her scared bleeding child. I picked him up and placed her wet, crying, bleeding child in her lap. I don’t think her designer dress survived the chlorine and blood.

    When I turned around a child, total non-swimmer, was in the middle of the pool floundering caught under some floats. Sis’s MIL and SIL decided that was a great time to block my path to the pool and make comments about my weight.

    My sister said she knew something bad was happening when she heard me cursing – from inside. They moved*. I jumped in towards the girl, but my oldest niece a strong swimmer pulled the girl up and to the side of the pool. At least this time people were paying attention when I demanded the parents come help their child.

    *To this day they are scared of me. They have seen my temper and Sis’s and when it comes to issues like this. I would have tossed them both to the ground to get to that kid.

    I am strong swimmer and have nearly drowned twice (1st time got tossed by a wave and smacked my head hard enough to see stars and grey out. 2nd time was less than 1 foot of water but was trapped with my head under the water.).

  42. @Meagan – What I consider to be the worst childrearing book series around – What to Expect in the Toddler Years – actually suggests that breastfeeding your child past their first birthday might be psychologically damaging. But to say “no one does it” is absurd – I know many parents who breastfeed their kids all the way to up to age 3 or so.

    Of course, this brings up that there are different types of parents who see “danger” in different things. There’s a whole subset of parents in this country who think *not* breastfeeding your kid is practically abuse. Which is also completely absurd, if you ask me.

  43. Let’s see, in my neighborhood there’s a huge list of (my personal) offenses, apparently.
    – crossing the street
    – walking to the other end of the block
    – riding bikes in the street
    – playing outside while parents are inside
    – leaving a kid home for 5 minutes while I go to the school ACROSS THE STREET to pick up another kid
    – letting my 2nd grader walk home from school alone from same school
    – letting my kids choose/start their own dvds
    – letting my kids get their own snacks/juice AND use the microwave

    I could go on, as apparently in this suburban neighborhood I am the anti-Mom, but this is more than enough.

  44. Just watched an episode of Judge Judy where she pronounced: “Children should not be left un-supervised.” Is because we need enough adult witnesses to fill a half hour show?

  45. Fengru, I think she meant no one does it in public.

  46. Hiring a teenage babysitter is too ‘dangerous’! I started babysitting for money when I was 10! At age 11, I babysat 3 kids, and one had cancer. As a teenager, I babysat kids and took them to the park. The kids thought I was so cool for swinging them really high (compared to their parents). Out of all the kids I babysat, no one got hurt. I never had to use a band aid with any of them!

    About 4 or 5 years ago, I was in a MOMS Club. One mom told me a teenager babysat a 2 year old. The 2 year old climbed on the counter, fell off, and unfortunately died. The moms in my club said they are glad they don’t hire teenage babysitters in case of an accident.

    Yes, what a tragedy! However, how many kids have died while being babysat by a teenager? Kids have unfortunately died while in similar ways under their parents care.

    When I was younger, I came from a poor family. Families knew I was responsible, and would hire me to babysit. With my money, I was able to buy school supplies and clothes. Also babysitting prepared me for motherhood. I now have 5 kids. My babysitting skills helped me for the reality of motherhood! To all the families who trusted me to babysit their kids, “THANK YOU!!!!

  47. These responses reminded me of a question – this blog has helped me think about actual stats to identify how dangerous an activity is. All well and good when thinking about abduction, walking to school, etc., but, by applying this technique, I am now starting to have qualms about letting my daughter ride her bike around town. I know 2 people who have died bike riding, one who is now paralyzed due to a bike accident, one whose liver was lacerated in a bike accident, and one person who was out on disability for several months due to a bike accident. I should note that all of these but 1 of the deaths were adults. None of them were identified as doing anything high risk. 3 of these accidents involved cars. I should also note that I am not some big bicycling enthusiast who knows these people through a bicycle club or shared interest – these are just folks I know from the neighborhood, work, PTA. Has anyone else faced an issue like this? I loved using my bike to get around as a kid, and now my 11 year old daughter is enjoying it, but I’m starting to feel fear in my gut every time she goes out.

  48. I am sorry to see the number of straw-man responses- baby knee-pads were already a joke in the national dialogue. Celebrating Christmas? Really? People say that’s dangerous? Come on. Straw man arguments are not interesting.

    And riding a bike without a helmet *is* dangerous, but note that it’s not the knee-pads that are mandated by law. It’s the helmet because the rest of us don’t want to pay for the life-support of your brain-damaged kid infinitely. It’s not that everyone is so worried about your delicate flower. It’s that if you spend an hour in the emergency room and ICU, you’ll soon realize where that $700 premium for a healthy young woman is coming from. Brain injuries especially suck. We’re talking risk vs. benefit here, right? It would be one thing to refuse to let them ride a bike, but how is a helmet making them suffer?

    Surely, you wouldn’t tell them to leave the helmet off when riding a motorcycle?

    I personally let my kids lick the cookie bowl. Even with eggs. My baby eats the occasional drop of honey.

    “Letting your kid stay in the car while you go pay for the gas.”

    The ultimate one- it’s all fun and games until you get reported to CPS. 😦 I actually got called out on something similar. A dangerous activity, for all the wrong reasons.

  49. I haven’t seen anyone mention playing outside barefoot. My kids do this all the time, even when it is somewhat cold or wet (if they want to), but I rarely see the other neighborhood kids without shoes. Once, a neihbor even sent my child home because he came over without shoes. I guess she thought I wouldn’t have approved. My kids have passed along other negative comments parents have given about them being barefoot. I personally like being barefoot and figure if my kids’ feet are cold, they’ll put on shoes! I will force them to wear shoes if it’s really cold, but even then it’s partly to avoid negative reactions from the neighbors.

  50. I saw that Judge Judy show too…Why was I actually watching Judge Judy??…don’t ask! Anyway, she was commenting on a boy that had been hit by a car while riding his bike. The bike had hit a hole or something and he lost control and ended up on the hood of a teenager’s car with a fractured arm. OH! You would think the good judge was ready to turn this mom in for neglect. You never, ever leave a child outside unsupervised …EVER – or something to that effect. PUH-LEEEES!! Can you “Dangerize” any more than that?! Oh, for the day when the media will demonize these dangerizers instead of the ones who actually give their children some room to breathe!! You should try to find this on the internet – it’s priceless (I mean if you can refrain from gouging your own eyes out and gagging on your own vomit until you get to “the great rebuke”!) By the way, this case was the mom of the teen driver suing the mom of the little boy for the cost of the repair of the dent in the car hood…and with that, I am rendered speechless —

  51. @Susan2

    Something that some bike advocates struggle with is that as we ‘make noise’ about things like bike lanes, and holding drivers that kill cyclists accountable, we create the impression that cycling is unsafe. We’re trying to make it safer, but no, your experience is not normal. I know more people who have been injured/killed in cars than on bikes, and I know a LOT of cyclists.

    I strongly recommend finding and taking a cycling course. Knowing how to ride in traffic will not only make you a lot safer, but a lot more comfortable.


    There are 4 simple rules that will dramatically increase your safety: 1) ride with traffic, never against it. 2) use a light when it’s dusk/dark out. 3) never ride drunk 4) don’t ride on the sidewalk (unless you’re riding with a small child at a walking pace).

  52. Car seats: I’ve mentioned this on here before, but the Steven Levy (the ‘Freakonomics’ guy) thinks car seats are a racket too: http://www.ted.com/talks/steven_levitt_on_child_carseats.html
    The general point is that it would be just as safe, and a lot cheaper, to modify seat belts so that they could be adjusted for smaller people.

  53. @Morgan: Going barefoot is a perfect example of something that might be safe in one place but not another. For example, I wouldn’t dare try that in Australia or rural Texas — call me a scaredycat, but I’m not too keen on snakebites.

    @Elizabeth: Bike riding without a helmet dangerous? Here in the Netherlands it’s not compulsory and I turned out okay. I’ll get back here if I manage to find some statistics.

  54. @Ben, I’m an avid (religious even) helmet user, but for the other side, check out this comment by Bob from the famous “No Bike Riding to School” post of last June:


    For me it’s a cost/benefit analysis. Cheap insurance IMO.

  55. “I have to disagree with the person who said kids should not wear helmets while on a bike. No, I didn’t wear one as a child, but 2 years ago, as a middle aged adult, I flipped over my handle bars and smashed my head. Had it not been for my helmet I’d probably be dead. I am a firm believer in helmets while on bikes for everyone.”

    I second this remark. It’s not overprotective to want a child (or yourself) to wear a helmet, it’s being understanding of the fact that accidents do happen and although cuts, grazes, scrapes and even a broken arm can be fine, a broken head can’t and the potential for very severe injury is increased. Being overprotective would be not letting your child ride a bike at all.

    “This past summer, on the last day of school, a friend of mine invited the class to come for a swimming party after school, and another mom and I were invited to come and help supervise. About half the kids in the class attended, and one girl’s dad came along. He sat by the side of the pool, didn’t talk to anyone, and watched his daughter like a hawk for the first hour, at which time his wife showed up and, his shift over, he left and went back to work.”

    Heh, he was lucky he didn’t get into trouble from some anxious idiot, because as we all know all adult males are paedophiles. *eyeroll*

  56. Danger = questioning the prevailing parenting and schooling orthodoxy.

  57. “It’s the helmet because the rest of us don’t want to pay for the life-support of your brain-damaged kid infinitely.”

    I would never demand that you pay my medical bills, and I’m highly offended at your statement that I would.

  58. @Ben – I’m Australian, and I hardly ever wear shoes outside and I don’t make my 2yo daughter wear them either – no snakebites so far!

  59. Never heard the one knee on the ground rule while roasting marshmellows, but I kinda like that one. With all those kids moving around the campfire trying to find a spot, a small bump to an otherwise balanced kid is not too far fetched. At least the one knee rule does not take away from, or prevent, the activity.

    I am an avid cyclist and have wiped out dozens of times, but have never hit my (helmeted) head on anything. I am a helmet advocate because it is an easy precaution that takes nothing away from the activity.

    Bottom line – risk management yes. Risk elimination no.

  60. Okaaaayyyy… bicycle helmets. The Great Helmet Debate.

    No, bicycling is not dangerous. Even in the US less people (and children) get hurt riding a bike than falling off the stairs, and don’t get me started on the nr one cause of kid’s death in the States: being driven in a car.
    What *is* dangerous, however, is being hit by a moving tonne of metal, aka ‘a car’. A styrofoam helmet does not protect you from being mangled and killed if hit by a car (just falling off a bicycle will give you a graze or two, but no broken bones or smashed in head)

    Now, I’m Dutch, and the Netherlands has the highest rate of cycling (in some cities such as Groningen cycling makes up for more than sixty percent of *all* daily trips, more than driving, public transport and walking together). It’s also the safest country to cycle, with far less deaths and injuries per cycled kilometre than any other country in the world. We also do NOT wear helmets, official policy being that helmets are dangerous because they give off the signal that bicycling is inherently dangerous (which scares people off). Helmets do not prevent injury and death, but they are wonderful to fob off the responsibility of providing a safe environment to the cyclist, which is shameful and counterproductive. It isn’t protection, it’s fearmongering.

    There is no reason why cycling needs to be any more unsafe than a lot of the other activities that you and I take part in every day without a helmet. These include walking, climbing stairs, riding in automobiles…
    The justification for a helmet for bicycle use only is one of compensating for the risk (or perceived risk) around you due to your local environment, not of compensating for any inherent risk of cycling.

    While cycling is genuinely much more dangerous in the US than it is over here, that is due to other factors, such as car oriented design of streets and driver behaviour, not due to any inherent danger of riding on two wheels.

    Sport cyclists, including MTBers, road racers, BMX riders, do wear helmets here at least some of the time. They take risks, and they’re compensating for their additional risk. However, sport cycling has little to do with utility cycling. As a matter of fact, no-one here would dream of riding a horse without a safety cap. A horse might startle and throw you, from a higher seat and with more force than falling off a bike. No one in Texas would dream of participating in a rodeo event with a safety helmets, be them adults or children. Why? Because no one is going to hit a rodeo pony with a SUV?

    But back to safe cycling in the Netherlands…

    How many Americans cycle? One percent of the population. How many Dutch cycle? Ninetythree percent. More than ninetyfive percent of ALL middleschool children bike to school, summer and winter. This is what that looks like:

    What has made The Netherlands such a safe place to cycle? Infrastructure (separated bicyclelanes, as minimal engagement between bikes and cars as possible), reduced speedlimits for cars in cities, etc. Actual safety, subjective safety and social safety.


  61. I’m not sure if this is because of perceived danger issues, but one thing I’ve noticed in the last couple of years is that every battery compartment seems to have a screw you need to undo – making changing the batteries a lot more annoying.

    These compartments use to come with a built in plastic catch, but no longer. Now I have to keep a cross head screwdriver with my batteries, and juggle a tiny screw and a screwdriver while changing the batteries on the swing/music and light show/latest favorite just when I really need it to keep my twins calm. Drives me crazy.

  62. @Rich Wilson – Thanks! I had heard of cycling courses before, but the previous list I looked at did not include anyone nearby. On your list, the very first person on NY’s list is in my fair city and there’s another nearby.

  63. I actually asked at GameStop about why minors can’t sell games, and it’s because they have to follow the laws pawn shops follow. The person who is selling them the games has to have adult legal responsibility for selling stolen goods if they turn out to be stolen. So that isn’t about safety really.

    I let my daughter eat raw cookie dough whenever we make cookies, which really isn’t often now that I think of it. But I am not worried about egg safety. She is also allowed to cook some things and use the microwave.

  64. @Susan2 “I loved using my bike to get around as a kid, and now my 11 year old daughter is enjoying it, but I’m starting to feel fear in my gut every time she goes out.”

    Susan, here’s a link to an excellent site that describes the ways bicycles get hit by cars and how to avoid the collisions.

  65. I’m with the pro-helmet crowd here; even as an adult, one isn’t immune to not getting a good noggin clonk while having a wipeout. This happened to me nearly 2 years ago — the left side of me, including face, was all bruised, and I required a few stitches around the eyebrow for a small gash. Thank God I had the helmet on, or who knows what other injuries I could’ve sustained. (I also knew of a doctor I worked with briefly who was an avid cyclist, but did not wear a helmet. Poor man died of head injuries after a freak accident three years ago, and that really brought the point across to me.)

    Same for seatbelts, regardless of age. As for the ‘in the front seat’ thing; supposedly, even small adults can be killed or seriously injured by imploding airbags. I confess to having on a few occasions put my 6 y.o. in a car, SANS CARSEAT/BOOSTER, but belted. (And we survived!)

    Interestingly, my daughter has been commenting on all the safety warnings on toys/plastic bags — she asked why these had to be printed, and I explained that it was to warn parents about not letting their small children play with these toys. To which she said, “But I don’t put toys in my mouth, and if a kid is too young to be playing with these, they shouldn’t have them.”

    The other big “dangerism”, in my opinion, is the constant fearmongering with ‘stranger danger’ instruction in school and the constant news stories regarding missing/kidnapped/molested children. (I stopped watching local news coverage for that very reason; also, if you watch Nancy Grace, it’s nothing but a litany on the dangers of what can happen, except that almost all the culprits are either parents/acquaintances of the children involved.)

    I am working to make my daughter aware, not scared, and it’s not always easy. Letting my daughter go the restroom unescorted is a tough one — last week, my mother was lecturing me on how a 7 y.o. girl was molested going to the girl’s room at a local theater recently. (At least the kid was smart, told her dad, and the assailant was caught.) While it is unnerving, I also think ‘the same could also happen to an adult’. I don’t believe all the crap about the world being a more scary place — we are just more aware of these bad things happening!

  66. How about letting them have the food they love for lunch. The “forbidden” list at my daughter’s school is so long, that I am running out of foods to give her for lunch… no peanut butter ( ok, kind of get it), no apples or any fruit with skin on (!!!!), no oranges, no processed meat ( I am not kidding, the kid cannot take a salami sandwich to school)…
    The school board started with things that some kids are allergic to, and ended up with every single food that anyone has ever criticized for any reason. I started giving my kid a huge breakfast and a big meal after school so she is not hungry in school anymore and I know of other parents who are doing the same. We complained many times but the whole effort to ban foods is spearheaded by a few very influential moms that have nothing better to do.

  67. In the five plus years of using a bike, sans helmet, as primary transportation in New Orleans, I only heard of one truly henious biking accident. My roommate was mugged on his bike and as a result of being strong armed off it, broke his collar bone. I rode after dark, in the rain, over hills, in HEAVY traffic (Vet’s Highway anybody?) and through Mardi Gras. I fell a couple of times resulting in skinned knees and grazed palms.

    My eight year old son is terrified to ride his bike. He has heard on television that biking can be dangerous. My bike was and is a passport to freedom. Yes, he has a helmet but frankly, I’m more worried about his collar bones.

    Use a helmet if you want but please don’t force me to use one. I promise not to dun you for my hospital bills.

  68. My 11-year-old daughter has been positively pounded into the ground from a height of six feet, leading to serious bruising and temporary dislocation of ego. In most contexts if I had allowed this to happen, I would have been arrested and perhaps lost custody of her. But it has happened during her individualized equestrian training, so I’m not seen as a Bad Mommy because of it – instead, I’m envied as a parent who has the means to allow her to develop her potential in such a noble and prestigious sporting event. But that perspective is entirely cultural, because I can tell you that jumping an 800-pound animal over various obstacles is TEN TIMES riskier than any “controversial” free range activity you can name. How’s THAT for “dangerism”?!

  69. @Babs. Sounds like your helmet is your lucky rabbit’s foot or magic feather. With it on, ‘nothing can hurt you’. If you had fallen without your helmet, you would still have had bruises. Perhaps you would’ve needed that stitch in your brow. But you fell with your helmet on, and maybe even cracked it (those things crack on the slightest impact – they’re made from styrofoam) and you now believe that the only reason you only had bruises is because the helmet protected you.

    I quote from a post on Copenhagenize.com:

    “Ironically, no helmet manufacturer will tell you that helmets will or can save lives. When I met a marketing man from a European helmet [and other stuff] manufacturer at the Velocity 2009 Bicycle Conference, who wandered around with a helmet dangling from his bag, I asked him straight out: “Can your helmet save your life?” He shrugged and laughed uncomfortably. “Can it?” “Well, not save your life, no.” When I asked why he walked around with it he simply replied, “Because I sell them.”

    At least this guy knew what many people do not. That bicycle helmets are merely merely designed to protect the head from non-life threatening injuries in solo accidents under 20 km/h. And preferably if you land flat on the crown of your head, please. They are not even tested for impact on the sides or back.”


    If you want to protect your head while riding a bicycle, why not ride a ‘Dutch’ (sit-up-and-beg) bicycle? They’re heavy and solid but comfortable and the point of gravity will be very low, which makes falling on your head as unlikely as being hit by lightning.

  70. @ Morgan:

    Another reason not to let kids roam around barefoot is the risk of parasites carried via animal feces.

    I come from a neighborhood of kids who spent entire summers roaming around barefoot… Shoes and even sandals were an inconvenience because we were in and out of the ocean so frequently.

    Most of us kids started wearing shoes on our own about a day after a sibling or close friend impaled themselves on a nail, or came home with a foot full of broken glass, etc. To this day, I wonder what the hell our parents were thinking.

  71. Let me explain my concern about helmets for little kids. They are not made like the nice, sleek adult bike helmets. They cover the ears, interfere with peripheral vision, and make the child’s head sweat. In my opinion, they create additional danger by making the child less aware of his surroundings during the time when he needs to apply all his faculties in learning to ride safely. And the discomfort can make bike riding seem like an unpleasant activity.

    In most cases, a little kid on a 13-inch or 16-inch bike is not going fast enough and not going to fall far enough to do severe damage to her head. (And hopefully at that age, they are not riding alone in a busy street.) If my kid does fall during those early years, I want her to develop the horse sense that only a few mild clunks on the head/face will provide. It’s the same logic that made me “allow” my kids to scrape their knees when they were playing on the patio at 1.5.

    I’m not opposed to helmets for kids who are going to be riding in traffic, riding for sport, etc. When my kid sister was 5, we rode bikes together on rural roads, and at those times, she had to wear a helmet. I just believe a parent can decide what’s safe for her child, based on all the circumstances. And that there is some benefit to a child in finding out the logical results of actions resulting in a fall.

  72. I’ll probably get in trouble for bringing this up, but all the stuff in my 11th grade “health class” could be considered a dangerism, especially teenage sex and alcohol use. My teacher basically said that if we ever french kissed before marriage or had a single sip of alcohol before age 21, we would end up pregnant, get AIDS, get in a car crash, fall off a balcony, and somehow manage to die AND shame our families forever. He assured us that there was a 100% chance of ruining our lives forever if we had even one sexual encounter or one alcoholic drink.

  73. About going barefoot: I agree with everyone. It is nice but I try to contain it to places where I know what they might step on. They did play outside barefoot pretty much all summer for the past two years.

    I used to run barefoot as a kid. The worst was when we went to the playground, which was on blacktop. We would get to the middle of the blacktop and then is when our feet would start burning. At that point, you have to go back over the scorching blacktop to get some relief. You’d think we would learn. And eventually we did.

    I did stub my toes a lot. I guess I was a klutz. My mom would tell me to wear my shoes. So I would carry them with me, and after stubbing my toe, I would put my bloody foot into my sock and shoe. Hey, I was a kid. Eventually I did figure it out. Thank goodness, kids’ bodies heal quickly.

  74. I started flying alone starting at the age of 7, as an official unaccompanied minor and later completely on my own and it amazes me now how many parents are terrified of letting their children (even teenagers!) fly alone to visit family. First of all, has a child, or anyone for that matter, been kidnapped from an airport? The terminals have loads of other passengers and employees around and there are security cameras everywhere. It’s completely illogical to think that someone would attempt a kidnapping in that situation (especially to a teenager – yes, apparently people worry about that). I doubt they’d get 10 feet away much less out of a terminal before security or other passengers took them down! Bathrooms? Almost always enough people in there that the chances of someone trying something bad are very, very slim. Getting lost? Airports are set up for non-English speakers and the illiterate to be able to get around.

    Also, by the time the airlines allow flying alone, which I believe is now somewhere in the range of 5-7 (and for the first few years they must have a flight attendant escort who I’m sure would accompany bathroom visits), children should be well aware of what to do should someone try to do something inappropriate.

    Of course, if you have especially passive or fearful child, by all means don’t let them go alone, but it’s amazing how many people with very capable and responsible children and teenagers won’t allow a visit to grandma because of “safety” when really it’s statistically a heck of a lot less risky than driving them to a friend’s house with who-knows-who there.

  75. NOT having a cell phone. Walking home from school alone. Riding a bike without a helmet. Being outside in the summer without bug spray. Lighting a fire in the firepit. Whittling a point on the end of a stick for toasting marshmallows. Sitting too close to the firepit. Jeez, the list goes on. Not that we used to juggle knives when we were small but we could run around barefoot, ride our bikes around the neighborhood, alone and without a helmet, and cross a six-lane wide highway without being at a cross walk (we ran!). God love kids today for putting up with our overprotectiveness. I wish we’d all grow ourselves some courage.

  76. Teaching a kid to cook is more important than teaching them to read. One of my favorite achievements was teaching a 3 year old (girlfriend’s kid) to make crispy bacon and perfect sunny-side up eggs. And unsupervised use of firearms, horses and power tools is an integral part of a normal childhood.

    The rule of thumb for determining how dangerous an activity should be how it compares to what is often considered the ultimate freak occurence – being struck by lightning. This is actually fairly common, statistically – about one chance in 300,000 over a 70 year lifespan. Probably a lot highter if you are a roofer or golf player. Anything less common is inherently not dangerous enough to worry about.

  77. On the bike helmet thing – they don’t seem to have a huge impact on overall rates of serious injury and death from the activity. So while I’d get one for my kid if I got them a bike, I’d rather see a kid riding a bike without a helmet than not riding one at all. And I wouldn’t stop my kid from going off riding if they refused to wear one.

    I would insist on lights at dusk/after dark though – and I have no idea what the relative safety stats are for that!

  78. Cook.

  79. If you go barefoot, as my kids and I frequently do in good weather, you are eventually going to get a scratch, scrape, or a cut. However, this happens infrequently, and almost all of them are minor. I scrape or cut my hands far more frequently than my feet, and no one suggests I or my kids wear gloves all the time. I remember going to a wooden play structure where my kids were not allowed in without shoes because “they might get a splinter.” No one worried about kids getting splinters in their hands, and the kids were crawling everywhere. My son ended up falling and getting hurt because his shoes don’t give him nearly the traction and climbing ability that bare feet do.

    Going barefoot is comfortable, allows kids to climb and run freely, and keeps kids’ feet strong and healthy. If people want to wear shoes, fine, but I think the danger posed by bare feet is highly exaggerated.

  80. I realize that I grew up a Free Range Kid and I did many of the things many comedians joke about, like drinking out of the water hose, playing manhunt until the street lights came on, walking to school by myself, etc.

    I DONT have kids of my own, and so I get the ” It’s so different now!” and ” You don’t understand!” The world is just more dangerous is what they say to me.

    This danger is indeed a “feeling” more than a “statistic” How many of us had raw eggs in our Ovaltine milkshakes when we were little? I never got sick from it, and yet the belief is so damn strong now from the parents who as children no doubt ate raw eggs.

  81. @ Kate: I love your rule of thumb, that’s exactly what the world needs to hear.

    How about this one: HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP (dun, dun, duuunn)

    A product that has been safely used in foods for the last 50 years and is largely responsible for the low cost of many foods is now vilified because it’s “Unnatural”

    While we’re at it, we can add Asprin to the list.

  82. correction, thanks Jim for the rule of thumb

  83. This is slightly off-topic, but Babs’ comment made me think of it:: permanent warning stickers plastered on everything. My new pet peeve, especially when it’s on furniture (never purchase a bunk bed if “sticker” doesn’t match your decor). And my son is wreathed with warnings in his car seat.

  84. The warning sticker thing is so funny – I recently put together some piece of furniture and it actually came with a sticker I was supposed to apply. A huge, neon yellow, ugly sticker saying “don’t be a [insert epithet of choice] and put something huge on this wimpy cabinet while your kid is standing under it.” I suppose I have now committed a felony by throwing it in the garbage.

  85. The “we ate raw eggs in Ovaltine, and we didn’t get sick” argument isn’t quite correct. Apparently it’s been demonstrated that chickens carry a much higher salmonella load than they did a (human) generation ago. So there are different factors at work, and what was true then isn’t NECESSARILY true now.

    HOWEVER, according to studies Lenore has cited, the risk of disease from raw egg is very low. So that’s still true, but not just because it didn’t hurt us back then.

  86. BTW, raw eggs in Ovaltine? BLECH!

  87. I think climbing the stairs has become “danerized”. My thinking has always been that the sooner they learn how to go up and down them, the better off we all are.

    People thought we were nuts when we didn’t install a gate with our second child. We were more worried about the three-year-old getting hurt climbing over it than about the infant getting away from us to the stairs. We’ve just always kept an eye on her or put her in the playpen if we had to step away and no big deal!

    My 14 month old has been climbing the stairs for months. When she showed an interest I figured she was ready to try. She’s starting to show an interest in going down so we’re gonna work on the bum-scoot to go down.

    I have friends who’s three year olds didn’t know how to climb stairs. And inevtiably, when the kid would come to my house he’d want to climb the stairs, but mom wouldn’t let him because “he doesn’t know how to climb the stairs yet”. Um….hello?

  88. I think climbing the stairs has become “dangerized”. My thinking has always been that the sooner they learn how to go up and down them, the better off we all are.

    People thought we were nuts when we didn’t install a gate with our second child. We were more worried about the three-year-old getting hurt climbing over it than about the infant getting away from us to the stairs. We’ve just always kept an eye on her or put her in the playpen if we had to step away and no big deal!

    My 14 month old has been climbing the stairs for months. When she showed an interest I figured she was ready to try. She’s starting to show an interest in going down so we’re gonna work on the bum-scoot to go down.

    I have friends who’s three year olds didn’t know how to climb stairs. And inevtiably, when the kid would come to my house he’d want to climb the stairs, but mom wouldn’t let him because “he doesn’t know how to climb the stairs yet”. Um….hello?

  89. Yes, I let the girls do stairs as soon as they felt ready – before they could walk. I did have to show them how to come down safely at first – though they started walking down as soon as they started walking on level ground. Stairs are great exercise for someone that little.

    But on the other hand, my staircase is relatively safe, because it’s carpeted and it turns halfway up. So the most they could do is fall down 7 carpeted steps. I could understand people being more protective if they had a non-carpeted staircase that was straight all the way up. Or if they didn’t have stairs at all, to practice on. But still – 3 years old? How does the child play on the slide at the park? Or doesn’t he?

    I’m actually surprised so many people are mentioning “stairs” as a danger for 3-year-olds. It literally would not occur to me at this age.

  90. @ Dirk D – the reason High Fructose Corn syrup is so cheap to buy because it is so highly subsidized. Corn was subsidized because at the time (the 30’s) because too many men were undernourished and wouldn’t be the strong fighting force that it was obvious that we would need in the late 30’s and early 40’s. So the gubment needed to get more calories to the masses. Corn is a very efficient way of doing that. Voila – subsidies! Fast forward to now, and you see that getting calories to the masses is no longer the problem.

    Also, saying HFC is safe is not exactly true. It is true that HFC doesn’t cause acute, immediate problems. But, it’s in so many foods now that a better question is how much of it should a person eat? And if they eat more than that recommended amount, what will happen to them. Then ask yourself, how many grams of HFC do you get in a day? I bet that you’d have a very hard time figuring that out (unless you avoid it altogether).

    So, when it comes to deciding what to eat, I try to follow the rule “Eat food. Don’t eat stuff that’s been manufactured to behave sorta like food.” By that logic, HFC isn’t really food, so I try to avoid it.

  91. Riding down a 60 foot drop off a cliff with six kids on the upside down HOOD from a 1956 Buick less the hood orament in the snow, then using a 120 foot rope to pull it back to the top of the cliff. I was eight.
    Nobody got injured and a great memory was created.

    That was 48 years ago and I remember it like it was yesterday. If I had a Hood from a 56 Buick today I would certainly allow my kids to do it.

  92. Walk. I’m not talking about walking to anywhere in particular or unaccompanied. I just mean the general act of walking – accompanied or unaccompanied – ANYWHERE. I am amazed at the number of walking-age children I see in strollers or being carried everywhere. We went to disneyland last month and there were hundreds of school-age children being pushed in strollers. It was a real nuisance to have to dodge so many strollers in such a crowded place. Really, if your child is old enough to ride Space Mountain he or she can sure as heck walk there. It is no wonder we have a childhood obesity problem in this country. My 4-year old can walk the almost mile to the playground, play and then walk home. Sometimes she’s less than thrilled to walk home, but sometimes so am I and I don’t see a reason that I should push a stroller the whole way or drive there. My job in life is not to make sure my child never has a moment of displeasure.

  93. @helenique, ITA, those little screws fastening battery compartments shut are a PITA. Which is why the batteries in my kid’s toys don’t get changed very often, also one reason why I’ve quit buying battery powered toys altogether.

    Lenore you’ve mentioned this one before, baths. Because some genius came up with those rubber duckies with the temperature gauge on the bottom so you can tell if baby’s bath water is too hot, because parents cannot be relied upon to dip an elbow in the water and tell by the way it feels on our skin. Now that I think of it, how ever do we manage to shower without frying ourselves?

    I was given one of those duckies at a baby shower. They are total crap, will indicate anything above lukewarm as too hot, and the sensor patch wears off after a few months anyway.

  94. Donna – so true. The other day several people sent me emails about a recall of a Graco stroller. My daughters are 3. They sat in a stroller exactly twice when they were 2 – both times for a day at the zoo. (They didn’t actually sit most of the time, but the stroller was nice for carrying all of our junk.) My kids have been walking a mile to the park and a mile back, up and down hills, since they were 1.5 years old; and my wee one isn’t even athletic. The difference is, her mom is willing to make her accountable for her behavior away from home. I’m surprised at how many tots/preschoolers never leave home without a stroller.

  95. I just realized, a lot of these come down to ‘trusting your own instincts with your own kid’. I once pointed out that I haven’t worried about my son choking on a toy since before he was two, but other kids are different. Some people on here teach their kids to use knives at three, but I can’t let him do that without extremely close supervision. He’s just not ready for that skill. We (should) know our own kids, and be able to make these kinds of judgement calls without our parenting being called into question, or having to second guess ourselves.

  96. I have to disagree re: firearms. But then I have a cousin who was shot and killed at the age of 14, by some friends playing with one of the dad’s guns. I don’t care how trained you are, guns do not belong in the hands of anyone under, say, 18. Arbitrary cut-off, yes. But I suppose if you’re considered old enough to vote, perhaps you have enough sense not to point your gun at someone.

  97. I used to walk bare foot as a child, still do when I am at home. In fact I did it when I was in Egypt in 2004 in the Coloured canyon because I felt safer than with shoes. As for stairs when I was 4 I hopped downstairs in a pair of my dad’s shoes and knocked myself out. Didn’t do it again though.

  98. @carol, I don’t think obesity inherently makes sleeping with a baby dangerous either, but in some recommendations re: bedsharing, obesity is mentioned as a caution to being on the same surface. http://www.nd.edu/~jmckenn1/lab/guide.html

    I agree with the knives, plates, and glasses above. Our kids use regular glasses, and it surprises me when other kids are using plastic cups or sippy cups exclusively still (some might be the child’s preference, which I understand).

    Also, I find it more dangerous for a child to be offered a plastic cup with lid and straw at a restaurant than the regular glass. We’ve broken one glass, but have dropped many plastic cups (or they’ve opened) all over clothes.

  99. A lot of people seem to think it’s dangerous to leave kids home alone before the age of 12.

  100. We let a 13 year old (gasp!) boy (Gasp, gasp!!) babysit our daughter, who is two. They have a great time playing together and we get to go out.

    I also let her ride her tricycle with no helmet. I need to do a bit more research on the helmet thing before she starts riding a real bike.

    I don’t think these helicopter parents are doing their kids any favors by trying to mitigate every possible danger. If they actually did it in a rational way kids would never ride in cars.

  101. […] “Dangerism” — How A Society Decides What’s Dangerous Hi Readers! Many of you are already familiar with Gever Tulley, the guy who runs the Tinkering School and did the […] […]

  102. I think river/stream/creek play is a big one for me since I grew up playing for hours in the small stream near my home. I allow my kids to muck about on a regular basis in most streams and constantly hear gasps when my seven year old is balancing on rocks in a few inches of water. Water play is great for math skills, great for core strength and balancing and generally a very wonderful integrated kinetic activity. We wash when we get home, they don’t drink the water, though there are many streams that require some swimming as well. Damming up a stream and altering it’s course during an afternoon-we never permanently change the course-is a really satisfying way to spend a summer day. Water and the power it possesses is as primal as fire. I may be a little prejudiced since my kids attend a Sudbury school, and will be Tinkering this summer. But before they attended this style of school, and before we heard about Tinkering we still spent hours moving rocks,sand and gravel in many of our streams and rivers.

  103. But still – 3 years old? How does the child play on the slide at the park? Or doesn’t he?

    They don’t. Or their parents hold them the whole way up. I see it – and every time, I want to go up to them and say “You know, all you’re doing is teaching your child to climb unsafely”. If you hold them, they lean back onto you. That’s a bad habit to let them get into, even for a short time.

    Meanwhile, I remember reading E. Nesbit where the kids routinely (and clandestinely because it really wasn’t allowed) seemed to sled down the stairs on a tea tray. Sounds like fun!

  104. I have to agree with the warning sticker thing. My son was given an inflatable remote control car. It came with a warning sticker – not on the car, but on the foot pump, warning that it was not for use by children. Very basic accordion style pump, I couldn’t pinch a finger in it even when I tried. Still not sure what the danger is.

  105. Somewhere in my photos is a picture of my daughters when they were going to grade school back in the 60’s –walking unaccompanied (the school was only about a block away) along an abandoned railway right-of-way. Good way to keep clear of street traffic; the only possible hazard was tripping over the few remaining railroad ties–and they were smart enough to watch where they were going. On the other hand, when they were in middle school, one of them was in an after school activity, and neither my [first] wife nor I was available to pick her up. I suggested a taxi–our local cab service was a mom-and-pop operation, based out of a home near ours (this was back before a meeting of taxi-drivers would resemble a UN committee meeting) but my wife would have none of that. As it turned out, one of the teachers gave her a ride home, but I never could convince Wife #1 that our local cab was OK.

  106. Delivering newspapers – do kids anywhere still do that?

    Walking home from school (unaccompanied by an adult) when the school nurse says you’re sick?

    Caroling? Trick-or-treating? Selling goods or services door-to-door?

    Going out without any particular destination in mind? When we were kids, we didn’t have to say where we were going. We just knew the boundary beyond which we weren’t allowed to go – which, of course, expanded over time. By about age 8, we could go wherever we could get to by foot or pedal power, as long as it was on this side of “the bridge” (the “bad neighborhoods” were on the other side of the bridge a couple miles away). As long as we were home by dinner / dark. So we usually didn’t even know where we were going until we go there.

  107. My childhood was split between the innercity of a very large metropolis, and summers at my grandfather’s farm in the middle of Kansas. The main rule was “if you aren’t here at mealtime, you’ll go without.”
    As soon as the weather was “warmish”, usually about early April, my sister and I shucked our shoes except for church on Sunday, until fall. We have no permanent scars.
    These days, schools and summer camps rule out even open-toed sandals.

  108. I think that generally there’s been mass confusion in parents’/legislator’s minds between ‘could lead to’ and ‘will’. Ie, if there are crisps in your child’s lunchbox they WILL grow up obese, if you let your child out alone the WILL be abducted by paedophiles. And of course, the risk of the ‘could lead to’ is wildly overstated at all times.

  109. Open toed sandals! Yes, I have a number of friends who feel open toed sandals and flp flops aren’t safe. They’re OK with Keens because the whole foot is somewhat enclosed. I prefer my daughter to wear sandals (open toed sandals are fine) because of an ick thing, as in neighborhood dogs, but it isn’t a big enough issue for me to follow her around making sure her sandals stay on.

    I also know people who make kids wear hats outside all of the time due to the sun.

  110. Salmonella can be a problem with raw eggs, but it is an even bigger problem in the digestive track of most common pet reptiles. I know a mother who was terrified when her child visited our two backyard chickens, yet her son has many tanks of imprisoned tiny reptiles that he handles all the time. Hand washing is one of the best methods of clearing the skin after handling reptiles.chickens or freshly gathered eggs. I have used our eggs in recipes that call for raw eggs like certain dressings and aioli, and my children have ingested raw cookie dough,only home made and made with our eggs. I did not allow honey until they were one, and now as a beekeeper I still would not allow a baby to have honey. Yet on the danger side of it all my hubby and I handle 10-15,000 bees most of the season in our 1/3 acre urban backyard, and the kids can be outside while we wrangle our bees. Our youngest got stung once, he stood in front of the hive and squatted down and yelled that he loved,loved,loved the bees into the hive opening and one guard bee came out and stung him on the lip. He was properly cared for immediately, and shocked that the bees did not enjoy his declarations;and he has never done it again. Between the bees, the chickens and the zip-line I am amazed my children have survived and thrived in our yard especially since there are sharp sticks,trees to climb and lots of dirt, that is probably very full of dirt. My son just reminded me he and his brother have also eaten lots of unwashed berries and vegetables from the garden too,unwashed, therefore covered in urban air and possibly dirt as well,

  111. OMG I’ll tell you what’s dangerous: knives, brothers with naked girl tatoos, Junior League moms, glass coffee tables, blond women driving SUVS, any SUV really, skateboards, scooters, unleashed dogs, playgrounds, rainbow bars, popsicles with high fructose corn syrup, grocery carts, airbags, toilets, random weirdos with cell phone cameras, nosy aunts, daycare diapers, snot and lead paint

  112. I heard a grandmother today at the playground tell a child not to twist the swing around so it could twirl because she would “get her neck caught and die.” WHAT!?

  113. what a great discussion! getting in a car is one of the most (statistically) dangerous things we do, but it never seems to bother those overly-cautious parents in the ‘burbs, who haul their kids in the car, for miles and miles, daily.

  114. I just found this blog not too long ago, and I LOVE it. my sisters and I were pretty Free Range in the suburbs, and we seem to be more Free Range ADULTS than most adults I know. Weird.

    But I had to comment on this:
    I heard a grandmother today at the playground tell a child not to twist the swing around so it could twirl because she would “get her neck caught and die.” WHAT!?
    Someone told me that when I was little, and I spent the next half hour or so TRYING to get my neck caught in the chain. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how it was even possible, so I dismissed the warning. The funny thing is that I probably put myself in MORE danger trying to figure out how exactly I COULD hurt myself (there were serious kid-contortions involved) than I would have been if that person had let me just spin the freakin’ swing.

  115. Who would believe that a 10-year-old could accidentally hang herself while dancing in her own bedroom? http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/manchester/8481941.stm

    According to the coroner: “It is an illustration of the significant dangers of playing around with things you put around your neck … She was playing about without knowledge of the risks.”

    A tragedy for the family, but an indication that you can’t keep children perfectly safe, even in their own home; and that freak accidents will occur, whatever you do.

  116. […] “Dangerism” — how society constructs what’s supposedly dangerous for kids [Free-Range Kids] […]

  117. My main problem with children’s bicycle helmets is that they seem to be designed to protect the head from the impact of an object rather than the impact of a fall. If you fall from a bicycle, odds are that the impact is going to be on the sides of the head rather than the top. There is little or no protection for the sides of the head with the majority of helmets used today. I’m not even going to mention the increase in neck injuries since helemet laws have been passed.

    My sister is the CH-53E of helicopter parents. A few years ago I took my nephews and a few of their friends swimming. The company that I used to work for had a pool at their plant, that wasn’t used very much. When my nephew remarked that it was cool to go swimming without a lifeguard, my sister went ballistic. She had forgotten that I spent five years in the Navy as a Search and Rescue swimmer. To my nephews I’m Uncle Jim not a lifeguard.

  118. My kids actually run around barefoot more than I did at their age. But they are doing it in our suburban backyard where there are not even any dogs, glass or rocks. I was a kid in Africa, where we had real dangers to worry about (snakes, scorpions).

    Open-toed sandals as a danger – my kid’s preschool won’t allow any sandals – kids are banned from the playground if they wear sandals. Apparently they cause kids to trip and break their arms…(actually the biggest danger is they fill up with woodchips, and the kids then have to stop and shake them out).

  119. Placing their own order at restaurants. Sometimes, when I’m dining with friends and their parents, they try to order for me. Really, now, I am nineteen years old and a college student away from home for months at a time; you think I can’t do this? Oh, and the dangers of climbing trees, of course. That was going on when I was a kid, but it was justified, and more about the trees than us. Those poor trees suffered multiple broken branches from some of our crazy stunts.

    Then, of course, there’s drinking tap water (Studies show half the time there is literally no chemical differences between bottled and tap, just taste! But don’t tell my mother that), and, my favorite, animals. When I was three, we got a puppy as big as I was, and she was bigger than I was until I turned eight or nine, but everyone in the neighborhood loved her. Biggest problem was her fondness of stealing my toys when she was a puppy. She gave us security, she joined in several of our games (though leashed; she wasn’t THAT trusted) and she never bit or nipped. When I couldn’t sleep, I’d sometimes sneak out of bed and use her as a pillow. Now, any animal is dangerous, and it must! be! supervised! Please. I’m all for strange animal safety, but please keep in mind an animal’s natural disposition and their training.

    Lastly, I have to disagree re: the bike helmet issue. When I was ten or eleven, my summer passion was riding to the elementary school and going in circles while thinking about how I was a professional racer. They have a decent expanse of blacktop for use in four-square (two boards permanently marked on it) and the jump-ropes they had on hand.

    Well, I messed up a turn on my oval and wound up biking home with a bleeding elbow, torn shirt, two bleeding knees (still have a large, red oval of a scar on one) and almost broke my nose. I say almost, because my parents always got those proper, adult-bike helmets for us (and I had a big head, so mine was normal) and it kept my face from actually hitting the pavement. Took a nice lesson from that, too: I will never again go over a good sized branch unless I’ll hit it dead on, not at an angle.

  120. How about living, in any way shape or form, without the use of hand sanitizer!

  121. about the sample thing i still get asked and im 20 but look 15.

  122. Coming from the perspective of the kid, I grew up with a very worried mother and I admire the children I see who are able to interact with the world at young ages.

    My social skills are underdeveloped and I have tremendous fear about interacting with people in check out lines or grocery stores.

    So yes, I plan to encourage my kids to learn to ask for things themselves and interact with the world more.

  123. Come on, now. The Girl Scout rule has been round for decades–otherwise, kids knock other kids into the fire, and kids get permanently scarred or killed. It happens. Fire safety is like knife safety–have to learn knife safety before you’re set free with a knife.

    Seat belts is another issue. It’s all about height, as far as booster seats go. If the seat belt fits, there’s no need for a booster–and shoulder belts are MANY times safer than lap-only belts. Who cares how old a kid is? My grandmother had a “booster” because she was too short to safely operate her car without it. Obviously, scarred for life.

    My kids play outside without direct supervision at 4–yes, 4. With supervision by older siblings–as young as they can walk and not eat stuff. My kids can make basic food for themselves by 5. They bike, though, with helmets. What happens without one? Usually, nothing. Or you get brain damage when you get knocked down, like my DH’s best friend in middle school, and your coordination, personality, and IQ are permanently negatively impacted.

    It’s all about what risks are sensible and what aren’t. My child’s chance of getting kidnapped by a stranger: <<<<1 in a million, considering where we live. Chance of getting in a serious car accident or bike accident–many times higher.

  124. Oh, what baffles me is that so many super-helicopter parents have swimming pools without proper precautions. I don’t understand exactly why it’s supposed to be an issue to leave a 5-y-o home alone versus in a moving car (hundreds or even thousands of times the risk), and yet the same parents who have totally inadequate safety measures on their home pool–the #1 way for a young kid to die at home!–would flip out at the idea. I’d like a pool, myself, but only with a cover. No even a self-closing gate–a COVER.

    My just-turned 7-y-o usually places his own order at restaurants and asks for refills himself. Doing it for them is teaching dependency and undermining their social self-confidence.

    Open-toed sandals are generally forbidden in schools because they do lead to injuries. Between kids stepping on each other during the passing period and the damage the metal doors do to feet when carelessly swung by someone else, it’s not a tiny concern. I’ve seen a few mangled feet from “sneaked-in” sandals myself. They’re also not good for running. But parents go from that to a general sense of danger.

    Now, outside, my kids often go barefoot!

    I think many things depend on the child. With my first, I didn’t bother with baby gates on the stairs. He wasn’t that dangerous and was teachable in that regard. But with my second, she’d have fallen down the stairs several dozen times, trying it before she was ready–she managed to fall down twice, as it was. Ditto with safety latches–none for kid #1, and a fair number with #2 (but still not everything).

  125. About cooking: I baked my first batch of cookies all alone (including reading the recipe, measuring and baking them in the oven) at the age of 6.

    I don’t have kids, but luckily my siblings believe in the free-range concept. Not that they even know about it; they live in another country where the style is (at least for now) different. It’s normal there to let your kids do things on their own.

    I just heard over the weekend that a friend of mine who has an 8 month old is going to hire someone to come and baby-proof their two-bedroom condo…

  126. why everything with -ism are scary 😀

  127. Great blog and post cheers. How long has this site been running now? The only thing is I seem to be having slight technical difficulties getting to your RSS feed though. Restaurant Devon

  128. Great ideas, protect your kids from everything so that when they are old enough to try to do things all by themselves they turn into complete and utter dependants and are years behind that of their piers. If they don’t learn what and what not to do and when do it, they will end up screaming mom everytime they need to cook or clean or possibly even bathe. I know you parents are scared for you children but it is impossible to protect them from everything, and in the end some of the most important things they will learn will come from mistakes.

  129. Most recently, I had the opportunity to watch a television show moderated by a woman named “Ju Ju”. The moderators name alone, should have told me the that the show like her name lacked credibility. The topic was you guessed it, “Dangerism”. As a mother of 5 grown and yes believe it or not still living children. The term, “Dangerism”, the concept and the stupidity of some of the women that subscribe to the concept clearly indicates that a third party needs to step in and help these families. If you want to protect your children, take a close look around you at those individuals close to your children. Knee pads, Hand Sanitizer and stupid concepts will not help to protect your children from the brain addled Mercedes driving, Vicodin addict that is driving your car pool. She is pretty, financially well off and is always happy to help and when she can’t, her heavily medicated psychotic son will fill in for her. This is DANGERISM, it is real and it lives across the street from me. So go ahead talk all you want, keep buying every safety product out there and then one day when “Jimmy” or Susie” doesn’t come home, make sure that you bury them with their knee pads as you stand there and weep, asking yourself Why, Why, Why. C’MON PEOPLE OPEN YOUR EYES AS TURNING A BLIND EYE MAY JUST COST YOUR CHILD HIS/HER LIFE.

  130. Someone mentioned eating snow, and I’ll agree with that. I had someone tell me how awful I was to let my kid eat snow. Also, just playing outside. I know someone who doesn’t let her 12-year-old outside unattended.

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