When Sorry is Better than Safe

I am the proud mother of a four-year-old who requests to be placed on top of our front stair’s railing. She faces outward toward the yard, legs curl around her tire swing. When she’s ready, she requests a push and drops about six feet before the rope catches and hurls her into a predictable pendulum swing. When people see her do this for the first time, I watch with amusement as they anticipate an accident. She has yet to suffer a serious fall.

We all have a level of tolerance when it comes to risk. We decide whether or not to let the baby use the crib with the recall. We decide to place (or forget to place) safety plugs in the electrical outlets. We decide whether or not to remove our children’s drawstrings from their hoodies after we watch a jarring episode of Oprah about children’s strings getting stuck in playground equipment. We may or may not keep them from eating grapes and hotdogs unsupervised, they are such a choking hazard after all. Etc, etc, etc.

But, as parents, do we need to be risk managers for our children 24/7?

I concede that I manage some risks that my children are exposed to (I do believe in seat belts and bike helmets!) However, I make a concerted effort to keep my professional risk manager persona to a minimum. I don’t believe that it is healthy or wise for parents and children to dwell on risk management all the time. This is why.

1. It’s a lot of pressure. Do you really want to feel responsible for every nick, bruise and bump your child gets? Do you want to feel guilt because your child gets sick? There is no way that parents can control for every variable.

2. Eventually our children will NOT need us. They will need to assess risk based on their own level of tolerance and past experiences. Part of healthy parenting is to allow room for our children to test the ‘risk’ waters.

3. The source of our feelings of discontent at the thought of certain risks can be easily manipulated or influenced.

Pop Quiz
Your 13 year-old is spending a lot of time with her online social networking. Do you heed the new headlines and documentaries and insist that she close down her Facebook and MySpace pages because you are worried about the sexual predators that might lure her away?

Answer
On the blog, Mommy MythBusters, Angeline Duran Piotrowski explains that online sexual solicitation has actually dramatically declined. And if teens do come across a solicitation, they tend to ignore it.

4. Our commonly-held beliefs about risk can actually be incorrect.

Pop Quiz
Which place would you rather your child play? At the friend’s house where you know that the parents keep guns? Or at the friend’s house that has a pool?

Answer
If you have read Freakonomics by Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt, you would know that it is statistically safer for your child to be at the home with guns. They would have a greater chance of drowning in the pool than getting shot.

5. As parents, we are consumers. If you were the manufacturer of toddler safety equipment, who would your target market be? Yup, fearful parents are the ones who will hand over the money.

Next time you need to assess risk, consider that you may not have all the information. Consider that you may have been negatively influenced. Consider that someone just wants your money. And most importantly, consider that it might be time for your child to discover their own risk tolerance.

In the meantime, I’m going to go put Banana down for a nap – on her side with some pillows. Then, I’m going to have a cup of coffee before I nurse her again.

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