Is your child too safe?

I suffered through school in the ‘80s - a time that doesn’t seem so far away on paper, but was worlds away from where we are now. For example, if parents today raised their kid in the same way I was, they might well end up in jail.

A wobbly start

They would be judged terrible parents by today’s standards, but for the ‘80s they were pretty much interchangeable with anyone else’s. To illustrate this, here’s a quick account of my history with bicycles:

I got my first bike when I was seven. Not a junior bike with training wheels – a full sized adult bike (my dad got it at a junk sale for R10) with a ball-busting bar across the top that was nearly as high as my shoulder when I stood next to it. He showed me how to mount the beast from a kitchen chair, push-started me a few times, and went back into the house after 10 minutes, leaving me to wobble precariously down our suburban street.

The only way I could dismount was to jump off – then I had to pick up the bike and walk it back to the chair.

I faceplanted the second day, breaking half a front tooth on the tar. I cried for half an hour, then picked up the damn bike, walked it back to the chair and climbed back on. Boys are stupid that way.

A few years later, I cycled to school daily. My parents bought me a goofy bright orange rain suit for the rainy Cape Town winters.

For a while in high school, we had to wear those ridiculous straw boater hats, even while cycling. Cape Town can get a bit windy, so I’d often have to cycle with one hand on my head to “stay in uniform”. In rush hour traffic. In the rain.

Now here’s the rub: that straw boater hat was the only headgear I ever wore while cycling. I never even owned a cycling helmet. Now it’s the law. Try sending your kid out like that today, and you’ll be lucky if their school doesn’t report you to the police for gross child negligence. That would be the least you’d deserve.

There are many other examples of what today would be considered child abuse. At age five I was regularly tasked by my dad to go down to the corner café to buy cigarettes, which they sold to me without question.

''My teacher wasn't hitting me enough"

When I was 11, my mother attended a PTA meeting to complain that my teacher wasn’t hitting me enough (there’s a whole ‘nother column in that one).
They sent me to a Catholic boarding school four hours’ drive away, where I was surrounded by angry, frustrated men in dresses who wouldn’t let me use the phone (there was no “my phone”  those days – only “the phone” (there’s a whole ‘nother column in that one too)).

My parents were (and are) good people. But by today’s standards they would probably make the five ‘o clock news.

Am I complaining? No, of course not. I don’t think for a second that my parents didn’t try their best. But would I raise my kids the same way they raised me? Hell, no. And it’s got nothing to do with that trivial “getting arrested for child abuse” thing.  It’s because I learnt by my parents’ well-intentioned mistakes – as did they, eventually.

So when I see parents who spend thousands of Rands on child car seats, or protective helmets for toddlers learning to walk, or to go back in time for a nanosecond, insist on buying lead-free dummies (yes, that was actually a thing, I don’t wail about or berate protective parents, with their diet plans, time-out rooms, or even seat belts for prams – none of which even existed when I was a kid.

I celebrate them.

Humanity is defined by its ability to learn – to embrace the new and shuck the old. Sure, some young parents might be a bit over-the-top, but at least their kids aren’t going to face a daily brush with death on oversized bikes steering one-handed though rush-hour traffic in the rain.

I’m glad we’ve progressed enough to know that this was bad parenting. And I’m glad we’ve said, “Hey, shuck that.”

Disclaimer: The views of columnists published on Parent24 are their own and therefore do not necessarily represent the views of Parent24.

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