When it comes to wearing helmets, tried as I have to instill a sense of safety in my kids, many of them are just not compliant, especially when out of my sight (they all know better). Even though most of their childhood memories involved resounding “NOs” for any head-challenging activity, unless they wore helmets. Little children are not my issue as usually they listen. The mere thought of breaking the rules (or disappointing me…often one and the same) is enough to keep helmets on, even long after disembarking from their bikes. Regularly, the 2 and 4-year-olds, after biking, can be seen at the park playing on the structures, slides and swings still sporting the required protective head-wear.
Then there are the teenagers…basically a law unto themselves. Some will wear helmets and some will not…others not ever. The dumb reasons why the teenagers will not conform, vary from not wanting to look like a geek (since when do geeks own the helmet look), afraid of owning “a sweaty head” (would imply something in that vicinity was actually engaged) or “ruining” their hair (a wash and brush away from anything a bike helmet could wreak on one’s hair follicles).
Sadly, the middle children (ages 7-11), after observing the cavalier attitudes of their older siblings, feel that bike helmets are truly something to wear when you leave home (so Mom and Dad will let you go) and then remove… once out of sight.
Recently, I happened to be speaking with a neighbor down the street, when my 8-year-old came racing by, on roller blades, without the benefit of a helmet, moments from where I was standing. This neighbor has been most patient over the years, observing my children tearing around and their apparent disregard for “the rules” when out of parental sight. (This kid in particular likely owes his life to this lady, as if it were not for her looking out for him, I am sure this kid would have been hit by a car long before now.)
I reminded the speeder that the helmet was immediately to be reinstated, or the skates would be confiscated. I had my car with me and would drive him home…roller blades and all. I had to hear how this poor boy’s head was too hot in a helmet (I offered to shave his head). I went about my usual speech about how one’s head is most important and that one fall could change all that. The 8-year-old appeared to be listening. That is if standing in once place (not skating), not rolling his eyes and watching me is any indication of concentration. Lots of shoulder shrugging when I reminded the child that this is not the first time he has heard this admonition, or the fact that since birth he has had to wear helmets for any bike, skates or sport activity.
I then reminded my boy, that without a helmet, should he encounter a severe blow to the head, he could end up in the hospital, completely “out of it” (and likely in diapers). Again, the forced up and down motion of his noggin, confirmed to all, his agreement (and boredom) in hearing the same spiel, a million times before… another speech from Mom
Until the neighbor asked me if she could speak to him. My reaction…”Be my guest!”
The neighbor went on to explain that she was a nurse and knew a friend of hers, who years ago sustained a serious car accident injury and was left for life in a wheelchair. This got a sort of “sorry for your friend” look from my kid. The neighbor continued to say that anyone with a serious head injury could end up not able to ever walk, talk, get out of bed, eat or go to the bathroom on their own. That such a head injury would also mean that one’s natural emotions would be mixed up. They would be angry and sad for no reason. It could also mean that they would still look fine on the outside but might not recognize their friends and family. In some cases, they would not even be able to move at all. At this point, my little guy has a pensive, but somewhat distant look, one I know well. This injured person would NEVER be him.
The neighbor pressed on with how important a helmet can be as my child nodded in premature gratitude, for the seeming nearing end of the conversation. I must say the kid listened. However, other than the odd, wide-eyed look, a chasm existed between the graphic details the nurse was warning of and any thought, by this boy, of committing to a future of consistent use of a helmet (his face said it all).
As my kid started to walk backward towards my car, the nurse apologized for being so graphic. I thanked her for her “help” in trying to give a real reason for my little guy to wear his helmet, especially when out of my sight. I knew my son was thrilled because the serious talk was now over. Both he and I started to head for my car.
The nurse then turned around and told the still-disinterested-child that if he did not wear his helmet and happened to sustain a head injury, wearing diapers was just the beginning of his potential troubles. If diapers were required, it would mean someone else would have to attend to them. He could end up having his “bum wiped by a stranger (nurse)” each time the diapers had to be changed. This story then went on to confirm that once in diapers, always in diapers. This diaper gig would last his whole lifetime…until he died as an old man. The look on this kid was incredible. He looked as though he had seen a ghost.
Again, I thanked my neighbor and told her I hoped her stories would keep my kid wearing his helmet, got into my car with my “spooked” child and drove down the street to my house. The kid sat in complete silence.
When we reached my driveway, this kid looks at me and says “Was all that diaper stuff true?”
I responded with… “Yes! … If you do not wear a helmet, all of those things could happen to you.”
My kid then says “I mean the part about a stranger wiping your bum all the rest of your life?” (I thought I would die laughing…is this all he got out of this conversation?)
My answer “Well, yes… but that was because you would be in diapers…that must gross you out…no?” Kid says “I am not scared of diapers, but I am scared of a stranger wiping my bum…Quick let’s get in the house and warn my brother…I bet he doesn’t know that if he rides his bike without a helmet …a stranger will be wiping his bum even when he is an old man!”
What could I say? Whatever works!
“Yes…quickly run in and let your brother know how important bike helmets really are and to ALWAYS wear one!” All these years, so many children later…who knew the lady from down the street knew just what my boy needed to hear. Since that day, I must say I have not had to remind as often about the helmets. Although, on occasion, I can be caught whispering the word “diapers” to my 8-year old as he runs outside to put his roller blades on!