Friday, August 14, 2009

Bike Helmets

I just posted this on the Catholic Dads Blog:

My parents came in from Minneapolis yesterday, and they'll be staying with us for the next week. (Happily, this will allow them to join us for the St. John Cantius Parish picnic this Sunday, which The Dutchman posted about yesterday.)

Knowing that our eldest daughter Teresa just learned to ride a bike a couple weeks ago, my mom had cut out a column for me that recently appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune by one of my favorite writers, James Lileks, in which he reflected on his experience teaching his daughter to ride a bike:

No parent can teach a child to ride a bike without being overwhelmed with the accursed metaphorical nature of it all: You hold them as they practice, then take your hands off as they gain skill. You trotting alongside, ready to intercede should gravity make a play for your fragile little egg. Watch the turns. Don't overcompensate. Keep your speed up. The skill is soon mastered, and she's riding by herself. You stay there. She rides away, makes the turn, comes back.

"You know what this is?" I said, patting the frame. "Freedom."

She rolled her eyes. From what?

Oh, it'll come to you. And it'll take you away. The moment I saw her pedal away I foresaw the nights I'd worry when she was late pedaling back to the house, after a glorious twilight tour of the world we want her to explore. The bike became the car; the car became college; college became the Future, where there aren't helmet laws and you're not leaning up against the car in the parking lot, thinking, well, worst-case scenario, I have Band-Aids in the glovebox.

But there isn't an alternative. You teach them to ride; you teach them to go. You hope they wear a helmet and brake when the sign says stop.

Read the whole thing—you'll be glad you did.

Interestingly, I had intended a few days ago to post an entry here on Catholic Dads about the whole helmet issue, and this column has prompted me to do so today.

On the one hand, it seems to me that the push for kids to wear helmets when they first learn to ride a bike is a bit silly, and is merely one of the consequences of living in an outrageously litigious society.

On the other hand, as a dad who is concerned for the well-being of his children and who wants them to acquire good safety habits early on — and, I must admit, as someone who regularly wears a bike helmet himself — I can see the value in it.

I should also point out that Jocelyn's (my wife's) feelings on the matter are unambiguous: she's pretty insistently pro-helmet from the get-go. And so, considering my own ambivalence on the matter, I've gone along with her.

I would be curious to hear from my fellow Catholic Dads on the helmet issue:

At what age, if any, do/did/will you insist your kids wear bike helmets?


Michelle said...

I'm not a Catholic dad, but ...

Our kids wore helmets from day one, including on their tricycles and with training wheels on their bikes, not because they needed to, just as a way to teach them good habits -- you ride a bike, you wear a helmet. In reality, I don't think I ever had to present it like that. They had seen other people riding bikes, and wearing helmets, and they wanted to too -- they think wearing a helmet is one of the coolest things about riding a bike. Maybe it's the whole "dress-up" thing.

The Dutchman said...

There was already a go around on the helmets issue at Catholic Dads — more heat than light:

My friend Karl has brain damage from a crash. My kids talk to Karl, and they know he's not "right" anymore, and I don't have to tell them to wear helmets. Even if the risk is small, or over estimated, the consequences of a head crash are simply too great.