Free-range Parenting and Rear-Facing Car Seats Related?

Free-range parenting, and by implication the opposite (helicopter parenting), seems to be in the news all the time (example from today’s New York Times that talks about the “narrowing of the child’s world has happened across the developed world”).

At the same time I have been poking around to find a new car seat for our son (will be 16 months old when the seat arrives). I’m discovering that the goal of safety advocates is to keep children rear-facing until they are age 4 or 5. All of the articles talk about how this makes children 50 or 75 percent “safer” but there is no mention of the actual statistical risk. Is the risk of injury in an accident being reduced from 10%/year or from 0.0001%/year? None of the articles include this information. Nor do any say “You could cut your child’s risk to zero by leaving him or her at home, buying a house that is walking distance to school (and where no streets need to be crossed), not signing up for Russian Math or Kumon unless those are offered within walking distance from your house, etc. You could also cut the risk in half by getting a minivan instead of a compact sedan. You could cut the risk by at least another fact of two avoiding driving at night, in the rain, or when you’re tired.”

Personally I try to avoid schlepping children around in cars because it seems like a second-rate environment for a child to learn/develop.  But to the extent that they must travel in a car with me I try to use the time to point out stuff that we can see out the window. I’d be interested to hear from readers, e.g., in Scandinavian countries where supposedly rear-facing until older ages is common, how in-car conversations about the scenery work when a child can’t see the same things as the adults in the car.

Parents spend so much time these days trying to make sure that every possible moment is spent on some sort of enrichment activity. Could it be that the rear-facing idea reduces the child’s mental enrichment to the point that the reduction in injury risk is not worth it? (“There is no level of acceptable risk” is not a sensible answer because if a parent truly felt that way the child would almost never be in a car at all (see above).)

[Separately, I recently got a letter from the school superintendent here in our (rich) suburb of Boston. This lists a lot of hazards facing children but car accidents are not among them. Here’s an excerpt:

“If you are a parent, at some point it is likely that your child or someone they know will face one or more of these issues…

  • Mental Health
  • Substance Use/Abuse
  • Domestic Violence
  • Learning Differences
  • Bullying
  • Stress
  • Suicide Prevention
  • Eating Disorders
  • Sexual Health
  • Autism Spectrum
  • Resiliency

… Don’t wait until your child is facing an issue to become educated. Prepare yourself now. Early awareness and intervention are the best methods of prevention.”]

Philip Greenspun’s Weblog

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