It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Risk-Averse Parenting

We live in a risk-phobic society. Parents are particularly risk-phobic. It’s become part of ‘responsible parenting’ to bubble-wrap our children, to shield them from every possibility of harm. I’ve written before about how misguided this is. A little risk is a necessary thing, a good thing.

In my previous post on the subject, I suggested that protecting our children too rigourously against all physical harm creates children who are at greater risk of that harm. If they never experience risk, if they never take a fall in any sense, they will never learn to evaluate risks and take them wisely as adults. Shit happens. We have to prepare our kids to deal with it.

But here’s something I hadn’t considered before. In an interesting take on the subject, The Onion, in its unsurpassed satiric way, suggests that the risk-phobia which passes for good parenting on this continent robs children of something else – something essential to childhood. Go have a look!

Good stuff.

March 6, 2007 - Posted by | controversy, parenting


  1. I whole heartedly agree! My 16 month old son is very curious and lively.

    We’ve made a concerted effort to allow him space and time to explore on his own. Other family members and acquaintances cringe when he stars to explore and investigate. “He could get hurt” is the repeated chorus. I always feel a little neglectful in these circumstances. I wish I had the courage to bluntly tell them it’s better for him to tumble a little now and learn the laws of physics then to find out at 16 and behind the wheel of a car!

    Perhaps the imagination angle is the simpler road to take!

    Comment by Chelsea | March 6, 2007 | Reply

  2. I love The Onion. Satire at its best.
    I agree that parents, family and friends want to bubble wrap their children and that it can be detrimental. I’ve found (and I may have said this before) that Brian and I tend to be on the opposite scale. I think that having a preemie made us have a diffent idea or injury. I expect bumps and bruises and I don’t rush to comfort unless I really think he could have been injured. That isn’t to say that I don’t comfort my child or try to safegaurd our home. I just think that he needs to experience life and that includes some sharp corners occasionally.

    Comment by Dani | March 6, 2007 | Reply

  3. Mary, this is brilliant!

    I agree entirely, and Chelsea described my philosophy just as well — let her learn how the world works! The same goes for exposure to dirt, messes, playground equipment, whatever. She’s gotten several colds over the course of her first six months in daycare, but you know what? She’s also developing a Kevlar immune system.

    As for imagination, some of my best entertainment comes from watching her create her own fantasy worlds.

    Comment by Allison | March 6, 2007 | Reply

  4. Gah! How creepy! And ironically, it makes me want to slap a label on it: SATIRE! DO NOT TAKE LITERALLY! You know, just to be on the safe side…

    Comment by kittenpie | March 6, 2007 | Reply

  5. Another great post MaryP!!!

    We try to allow Grace her own space to come up with her imaginary worlds. I hope that she gets bumps and bruises and the like……….I know—-the shock of that! Without an occasional bump, how will she learn!? I keep her safe but getting a skinned knee or falling off the swing isnt going to scar her for life….it might actually teach her something.

    Comment by So Called Supermom | March 6, 2007 | Reply

  6. I’m sewing the cushions to the couch as I write this. Multi-tasking that’s me!

    Comment by Karyn | March 6, 2007 | Reply

  7. I need to supervise Ian with his sippy cup more, he uses it as a trash barrel while pretending he’s a garbage truck. He may lose an eye.

    Comment by mamacita tina | March 6, 2007 | Reply

  8. Ha, the Onion is hilarious as always. Learning to let Q take small risks has been hard for me to do, but I know that it’s the only way he’ll learn how to handle bigger ones. This is a much harder lesson for me than for him.

    Comment by Lady M | March 7, 2007 | Reply

  9. Chelsea: The imagination angle is one approach, but I quite like your line “better he learn the laws of physics now than behind the wheel of a car”. Absolutely.

    It is hard to be the ‘neglectful’ parent in a crowd of super-cautious mommies. Those frowns, the drawing-back, perhaps even the outright criticism. Ick. The things we do for our children, huh?

    Dani: You’re capable of letting him take a tumble now and then? Well done, particularly since he was a premie. I suspect parental response to a delicate child – and premies are delicate, at first! – is to want to protect them even more diligently. If you’ve managed to raise him without hovering, I think you deserve more parental credit than you’re giving yourselves!

    Allison: “Kevlar immune system”. Good way to put it! I’ve had one of those all my life – probably because I was raised in a rural village, in a time when kids were sent out to play after breakfast and not expected back until lunch. Boggles my mind, now – but what a great way to grow up!

    Kittenpie: The first time I ran into The Onion was as a link in a forum of which I was a memeber. I’d never heard of The Onion before, and so I read it ‘straight’, and posted a comment that clearly indicated this. Then I started reading other articles, and the penny dropped. “Ohhh, this is satire. Not one word of it is meant to be taken at face value!” Oops… Made a bit of a fool of myself that day!

    SoCalled Supermom: Good for you! Even though it may seem possible to completely protect them against harm when they’re very little, it becomes increasingly impossible as they get older. Rather than try to prevent any harm from coming their way, a parent needs to teach them how to manage the dangers that exist. They won’t always be little and under your control!

    Karyn: Glad to know you’re a woman who takes her responsibilities seriously. Did you order the manual?

    Mamacita Tina: Well, exactly! And what kind of a parent would that make you?!?!? Though, I suppose, better only one somber eye than two with the sparkle of excitement in them…

    LadyM: “This is a much harder lesson for me than for him.” Well said! I think you express a universal parental struggle: you want what’s best for them – and sometimes what’s best for them is letting them take a fall – but you want to protect them against all that!! Normal parental urges battle each other in this. It takes a wise and conscious parent to make the decision to allow risk into their child’s life.

    Comment by MaryP | March 7, 2007 | Reply

  10. I used to climb trees when I was a kid. I remember getting sitting about 20 feet up in a tree in our front yard one day. Mom came out and looked up at me and asked if I was OK. I said “Yes”, and she turned and went back into the house. I only figured out years later what it must have taken for her to do that. She wasn’t the best mother in the world–but she had that part down. As an adult, I’m grateful for it.

    Comment by addofio | March 7, 2007 | Reply

  11. OR if you are a teacher, like me, and lucky enough to teach in the great state of Texas, like me, or any of the other wonderful states that are SO successfully preparing our children for the future using the GWB promoted NCLB act, you will have already done your part to contribute to the removal of imaginative time. What could be better for clarity and success than standardized testing, bubbling in multiple choice answers, and reviewing those same results, over and over again? I, for one, am doing my part to keep our children safe from dangerous original thought.

    Comment by AA | March 7, 2007 | Reply

  12. My sister cringes everytime I handle my boy roughly. He loves it when I do cartwheels with him – on a soft surface of course. I always take care to make sure his head lands right, etc, but I get the ‘look of death’ and clucking everytime I do this. But then again, my boy is just as rough as I am and has no issues kissing you at high speed, teeth first.
    I love this part ‘Opt instead for safe activities like untying knots, sticking and unsticking two pieces of Velcro…’. Babybones would probably show me where to stick those knots.

    Comment by mamabones | March 8, 2007 | Reply

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