Last week, a 12 year-old boy was killed when he lost control of his bike and flipped over a stone wall. This happened in Wilton, Connecticut, about 5 minutes from my office. The boy had been riding down a hill with his friends, probably enjoying the wind in his hair and the sun on his face. According to the news report, he may have been picking up speed going down the hill when he turned back to look at his friends, hit something at the side of the driveway, and lost control of the bike. He went airborne over the stone fence, crashing head-first into a cinder block behind the stone wall. He wasn’t wearing a helmet, but the news report said that it wasn’t clear if a helmet would have saved his life.
This is so very tragic and hits so close to home for me. The boy, from neighboring Weston, Connecticut, played basketball for his middle school team and loved baseball. The article said that he was well-liked at school. This could have been my son…any of our kids.
Children, and at 12 years they are indeed children, crave independence – the freedom of a bike ride on a beautiful summer day. Being out and about with their friends and away from their parents watchful eye. I remember being 12 years-old. I remember riding my bike everywhere the summer that I turned 12 – to the park, to friends houses, to the strip-mall for ice cream or a soda. That bike represented freedom to me – the ability to get from Point A to Point B without a ride from my mom and to travel a little farther away from home than I could walk…and in 1979, no one wore a helmet.
Not much has changed since ’79, except the helmet law – I am sure that at some point, my son is going to want to hop on his bike and speed away from me. As a parent, you have allow them these small tastes of independence. But with freedom, comes choices – the choice not to wear a helmet, the choice to ride fast down a steep incline, and with a pre-teen’s sense of immortality and natural inability to envision consequences, that can spell disaster. And in the case of the Weston boy, it did.
So what do you do? Wrap your kid in a bubble? Never let him or her out of your sight? Pepper them with constant reminders to “slow down!” and “watch out!” and all the “what if’s” that will make them completely paranoid about the outside world?
Or do you just cross your fingers and hope that luck, or a guardian angel, is riding alongside them?