One of the currently crazy things happening in the world has nothing to do with dictators or Governators or tweeting private parts. It has to do with knees and bottoms. It is the issue of falling.
On the market right now are three devices dedicated to making sure a child never gets a single boo-boo from a too-close encounter with the ground. The first is the baby kneepad, a generic leg warmer-type thing that you pull up over your baby’s chubby knees before you let ‘im go crawling — as if that is such a painful activity otherwise. As if the carpet is covered with hot coals.
The second device goes by the name of “Walking Wings.” It’s a marionette-type contraption you strap under your toddler’s arms and then use to hold him up while he’s learning to walk. The package promises “fewer falls for baby” and also that it “builds confidence.” As if a toddling baby never should fall. As if it would be a sad and sorry parent who allowed that to happen.
As for the idea that this gadget can build confidence, here’s a question: Does your confidence soar when you are in the passenger seat at the Daytona 500 or when you are driving? (I know, I know. There ARE no passenger seats at the Daytona 500. But you get the idea.)
Finally, there is the Piggyback Rider — a sort of platform you strap across the small of your back so your child can stand on it, hold on to your shoulders and be carried by you, for quite a while. Like, years. The marketing materials say it can carry children up to 60 pounds or 7 years old. It was designed for children who “are able, but unwilling, to walk.”
How about a parent who is able, but unwilling, to carry that kid, now that he’s 7 and healthy? Ah, parents like that are not what our society is creating.
No, the marketplace seems bent on convincing us that our children are far too delicate — tired, tentative, bruisable — to do any of the normal activities of growing up without parents cushioning their every step. Literally. This new assumption is completely false; children all over the world are crawling without major distress, walking without wings and transporting themselves on their own two legs by the time they are school-age. Yet these products would not exist if we weren’t primed to believe the very worst of our kids: They are too precious and vulnerable to function on their own.
Where this attitude comes from can be traced to several factors. We’re having fewer kids, so we focus on each one more. We have more disposable income, so the marketplace devises more things to sell us. And the more and more ubiquitous media blast all the terrible things that can happen to children, but not the fact that these things are extremely rare.
I also wonder whether part of the new worry is coming from the fact that now that we are aware of children with disabilities — instead of hiding them away — we are starting to see ALL kids in terms of neediness. So we’ve got a burgeoning tutoring industry (of which I partake!) and coaches for the games kids used to organize themselves and educational boosts built into everything from kiddie place mats covered in math problems to paper plates teaching kids the alphabet. It’s as if they need help ALL the time, in every possible sphere of childhood.
Individually, none of these products is that egregious. (Except the kneepads.) But taken together, they are brainwashing us into believing our kids can’t handle a darn thing.
How insulting to them — and to us.
Lenore Skenazy is the author of “Free-Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry)” and “Who’s the Blonde That Married What’s-His-Name? The Ultimate Tip-of-the-Tongue Test of Everything You Know You Know — But Can’t Remember Right Now.”