The Helmet Wars

Audrey writes:

I guess my son was about 12 or 13 during our Helmet War. It might be more accurate to call it the Helmet Negotiation. We'd already had some “discussions” about bicycle safety. Then we moved into a neighborhood where a group of boys around my son's age spent hours on their skateboards every day. About 6 boys. None of them wore helmets, or knee pads, or elbow pads, or any type of safety gear. It drove me crazy. What really drove me crazy was the attitude of the boys' mothers. It seemed to me that if we banded together and laid down the law about safety equipment, all of our sons would have to use it and none of them would feel dorky or overprotected. No, nope, none of the other moms were interested. They said things like, “Whaddaya gonna do?” and “Boys will be boys.”

Halfway through the summer, one boy fell badly off his skateboard. He suffered a compound fracture in his lower arm. Two days after the event, I spoke to one of his friends who'd seen the accident; the boy was still shaken describing the bone coming out of his friend's skin. Still, no safety equipment.

Naturally, my son did not want to be the only boy wearing a helmet and pads. Naturally, I did not want my son to have an horrific skull injury just so that his 12 year old ego could remain unbruised.

I offered a negotiation. We would each research to support our side of the argument. If he could find data disproving a link between helmets, etc and safety, he could ride without them. If I found data supporting a link between lack of safety gear and injury, he would have to use them. Of course I won, and learned to use the term “eggshell fracture” with confidence. My son honored his side of the bargain by not bicycling or skateboarding at all. Or he just waited until he was out of my line of sight before using a friend's bike or board.

Whaddaya gonna do? I often see adults bicycling without helmets. Sometimes they have young children with them who are wearing helmets. It seems to me that the message they are giving to their children is, “Wearing safety gear is nerdy and childish. You have to wear it now, but when you get older, you won't.” I wish that safety gear was sexier, it ain't. Helmet hair is not a good look. All the cool competitive skateboarders wear helmets and gear but that doesn't seem to translate to the kids on the street.

I think that my son learned that I wasn't going to give in when his safety was a stake. I hope he understood that I cared enough about his health to be unpopular with my own neighbors and to put being his mother above being his buddy. When he went off to college in New York City, I willed myself not to imagine him careering through traffic without a helmet.
I still wonder about other parents and the helmet wars. What's your take?

Rachel replies:

Not only do I make my kids wear their helmets, but I insist that their friends do too. If a friend shows up at our house on a bike without one, I send him home to get it. At first Noah's friends were aghast, but after a few times, they knew I was serious and started to show up wearing helmets. If they claim not to have one, I have extras to spare!

And by the way, my husband and I always wear our helmets too.


Kim responded on June 10, 2008 at 7:56 PM #

I would just like to say bravo for moms that don't give in. I have a son who is always riding something with wheels. He recently was punished for a week for not using his helmet. I found out he rode his motorized scooter over to the neighbor's house without it and I explained that this time he is punished for a week, next time the scooter will be gone for good. I also give the kids in the neighborhood heck whenever I catch them without a helmet. They now know if I catch them I will tell their mom!