By Erin Ryan Goodnow
As I pedaled down the road and out of my 3-year-old daughter’s sight, I still heard her crying. The “test drive” of my mom’s new cruiser just around the block in her neighborhood became more like a sprint to get back to my daughter, park the bike, apologize, console, and lecture…or rather, be lectured. The reprimand would be coming from my tearful little cycling novice because I had taken this little spin without wearing a helmet.
PeopleForBikes.org says that 100 million people age 3 and older rode a bike in 2014. My daughter was among this group, and from her very first ride one rule has always been in place: She must wear her helmet if she wants to get on her bike. No helmet, no bike, no negotiation. Riding a bike is a fun and memory-making part of childhood, but bike accidents are no joke. We as parents teach them to steer straight, avoid busy streets and ease into the brakes. But teaching them to always wear a helmet can save their lives.
According to research by the U.S. Department of Transportation, helmet use has been estimated to reduce head injury risk by 85 percent. But only 21 states have laws requiring helmets for young riders (Arizona, Colorado and Illinois unfortunately not among these), and zero states require helmets for all riders.
The good news is that the children are being protected. Only 16 percent of bicycle deaths are among people under 20 years old. But when trying to teach the future generation of cyclists, the safety benefits of helmets apply to the coaches, too. If we want our children to wear a helmet, shouldn’t we employ that logic to protect our own brains?
I know one thing about my children that applies to most other children I’ve met: They do what they see. My kids are little parrots when it comes to my choice words and expressions. They take my phone and pretend to text and talk. They find my husband’s razor and try to shave their beards. And when her little brother was a baby, my big-girl older daughter tried to feed her baby doll. As in, nurse. Parents are constantly teaching their children, for better or worse. Psychologists have seen that when a child imitates his or her parent, the behavior has a more lasting impact. So, if we model helmet-wearing, our kids will be so much more likely to wear their helmets when we’re not along for the ride. It becomes part of what they do every time they get on a bike. No negotiation.
I now affectionately call my daughter the helmet police. She loves to ride her bike, so a kid on a bike will capture her attention anywhere. She has forgiven my infraction, but she notices with an eagle’s eye whether or not a rider is wearing a helmet. Thankfully, we’ve never witnessed an unhelmeted child. But I can’t always report the same thing for the parents along for the ride.
And she has vocalized it. Loudly. When they are cruising by. “No helmet!” And they’ve heard her.
I’ve seen them turn their unhelmeted heads to look back at their accuser. Some might be annoyed. Some might hear their mother’s voice calling to them. And, hopefully, some, like me, might make it a short ride and get their helmet for the next spin around the neighborhood.