The Sunday Magazine·THE SUNDAY EDITION

Michael's essay — Helicopter parents and caregivers are going too far to protect kids

“An elementary school principal in Ontario has banned cartwheels in his playground. They are, he argues, much too dangerous for our children.”
Michael Enright: "We have become an obsessively overprotective society when it comes to our children." (Joe Brier/AP)

My friend Gerry can stand on his head, unsupported by a wall or anything, for five full minutes. He is 77 years old. Such dexterity at any age is worthy of praise but at 77, it could pass as a kind of earthly miracle. 

My friend also likes to roar around town on his Vespa scooter. He doesn't comport himself as some sort of athletic iron man. But appearances are always deceiving.

I would love to know, for example, the kinds of physical activities he took part in as a kid. Sports, probably, basketball, tennis. But what about calisthenics? Did he ever use a push-up bar, gym rings, a fitness ball? And did he ever do cartwheels?

I bring up cartwheels for a reason.

An elementary school principal in Ontario has banned cartwheels in his playground. They are, he argues, much too dangerous for our children.  

The principal has been persuaded that doing a cartwheel, a child (or I guess an adult for that matter) could suffer a concussion or neck and wrist injuries.

Until I read the story, the perils of cartwheels had remained a closed book to me. I needed to know more.

After an exhaustive search, I did find one reference to a death by cartwheel.

It occurred in 1849 in Oxford, England and it involved a 49-year-old man who fell out of a cart. He was run over by the wheel.

There were no other references to death, mutilation or serious injury due to playground cart wheels.

I further checked out the book Cartwheels by the sadly neglected author Lela McGuire Rustemeyer. 

This is the true story of Ms. Rustemeyer's adolescence on the Idaho prairie around the time of the Spanish-American War in the 1890s.

It's called Cartwheels, but again, it skips over any reference to schoolyard injuries or death.

It's mostly about horses and wagons going arse over teakettle into an arroyo or a coulee, or down a canyon wall.

We have become an obsessively overprotective society when it comes to our children. The "no cartwheel" ordinance is reminiscent of that goofy law in British Columbia which says children must be escorted everywhere by their parents until they're in their early thirties.

We put crash helmets on four year olds manoeuvering their scooters. We drive them everywhere to protect them from the marauding elements.

If you are overly concerned about the physical safety of your kiddos, I commend to you a book called The Art of Lying Down: A Guide to Horizontal Living.

In it the author, Bernd Bruner, who also wrote the groundbreaking Moon: A Brief History, explores the joys of doing nothing, of just lying there.

In the chapter entitled "So Easy a Child Can Do It," Bruner describes how the Vienna World's Fair in 1873 went out of its way to find the definitive way a child should lie down. In the playground or anywhere else.

Very little could happen to your little boy or little girl who is simply lying down.

Injuries from lying down are as rare as injuries from cartwheels, but lying down sounds safer. No point in taking any chances.

In fact, we can all learn a thing or two about avoiding dangerous exercises like cartwheels by lying down.

Housed in the Wat Pho temple complex in Bangkok is the famous 150-foot reclining Buddha. It was been resting there for more than 200 years.

Beside it, the words: "What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to lie down and stare."

Click 'listen' above to hear the essay.


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