The cracked back of my five-year-old son’s helmet after he rode his bike into a moving car and came out unscathed. (Paul Henderson/ The Progress)

Opinion: On helmets and helicopter parenting

How the “what-ifs’ and close calls can drive people with kids crazy

I had an inch of red wine in front of me as I noshed on a cracker with brie and honey.

It was a rare moment with my wife while out with friends for an evening of relaxation.

Then the phone rang.

The babysitter. A look on my wife’s face that I won’t soon forget. And then the outright panic: “We have to go! Everett’s been hit by a car!”

Our five-year-old son.

We were told he was likely OK. Still, these were the few words said before we literally ran to the car, and before I sped the very short distance to home.

A calm hovered over me at that moment as – interestingly in hindsight – I farmed out my panic to my wife and her unchanging expression, and tried to harvest a brief sense of calm.

Was he OK? Broken bones? Head injury?

Just drive.

As we arrived at the scene, directed by our eight-year-old daughter, there he was, being comforted by a doctor neighbour and aside from some scratches and a hurt ankle he was, in a word, OK.

The driver’s car with a large dent and red-paint scratches, his red bike with bent handlebars, and his expensive helmet cracked.

But his head? Fine. He was OK.

A police officer arrived followed by an ambulance, both of whom were comforting for my little guy.

And for parents who have suffered real tragedy with their children, the personal anecdote told so far here may seem banal, but those of us with kids know that sometimes parenting is about close calls. And we are left with what-ifs.

My wife and I started as helicopter parents, moving slowly if reluctantly at times towards the free range. But of course those helicopter/free range generalizations oversimplify parenting. We all try to balance between the two extremes.

This week, May 28 to June 3, is Bike to Work Week, a time to try to consider cycle commuting, but also cycling in general. I’ve always worn a bike helmet and made sure my kids did too, but part of me always thought: in a really minor incident are they necessary? And in a really severe crash, the helmet won’t help.

But after seeing my little guy crack the back of his head on the ground, emerging uninjured because of his helmet, it occurs to me there probably are a great many incidents like this where the helmet does help.

Yet so many still don’t wear helmets, I see them all the time, kids even commuting to school. Often happy families riding with kids wearing helmets, but parents not.

Little is more boring than continuous nagging about safety, but seriously people, helmets. Wear them.

Part of the issue of parenting is that we can never know when we’ll get that call or see an accident first hand.

We’ve owned a trampoline for years, a near death trap if you talk to some people. And if you ponder all the ways your children can be harmed, you’ll be a nervous wreck.

So it’s not always about helmets, it’s about common sense and staying safe.

Helicopter parenting doesn’t work, but you never know when you’ll get the call.

I think the best we can do as parents is teach safety, make sure our kids understand why things like helmets are important and then, well, cross our fingers.

Paul Henderson is a reporter at the Chilliwack Progress

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