Surviving childhood

Posts on Facebook and other social media, frequently hold up the wonders of growing up in the 1950s and 60s. One would think that those of us born between 1946 and 1964, a.k.a, Baby Boomers, grew up in some idyllic, magic time. We were free from parental supervision, government safety regulations, food labeling, dietary recommendations and nut allergies. Life was good and we survived and thrived. We must be the “greatest” generation. We were raised right and we live right now. According to a recent post on Facebook, “What didn’t kill us made us strong.”

Well, maybe.

Surely none of us Boomers are advocating that our grandchildren be held in our laps, nap in the cargo area of our hatch back, or crawl back and forth across the back of the front seat. There are good reasons for seat belts and car seats, as inconvenient and confusing as they are for Baby Boomer grandparents.

In 1950 the death rate from car accidents in this country was 60.6 for every 100,000 people. At the end of the 20th century, that number was 36.2 per 100,000. Part of that change in statistics has to do with improved car safety, road hazard reduction, and improvements in trauma care. On the other hand, we drive four times as many miles and on most highways, there are more cars and we drive far faster than in 1950.

Child car seat use is estimated to reduce risk of death by 71 percent for infants and 54 percent for toddlers. Those are impressive numbers. Even so, motor vehicle injuries are a leading cause of death among children in the US, and many of those who die each year are not buckled in. If there were a medication that reduced our rate of heart attacks by 50 percent, we would all insist on taking it as many times a day as necessary, yet we argue about being required to put our children in car seats or ourselves in seat belts.

We have made great strides in reducing the numbers of kids who are killed and seriously injured in the last 50 years. In the US since 1987, when my girls were still in grade school, the risk of accidental death for children 14 and under has decreased by 45 percent. Still accidents are the leading cause of death among children between 1 and 14, killing nearly 3,000 children in 2010 according to the Centers for Disease Control. I would be devastated if one of my grandchildren were included in those numbers and their death could have been prevented by simply buckling them in a car seat, putting a baby gate across the basement stairs or fitting a helmet on their precious heads.

I find the nostalgic, rose colored glasses reminiscing about the “good old days” of the 1950s and 1960s to be insensitive. If, back in the good old days of the 1950s, we didn’t have a traumatic brain injury from flying around inside a car, we were just plain lucky. Not every child was so lucky, and their injury or death was not trivial or unimportant. There were good things about being a kid in 1950-1960, but the lack of safety regulations was not one of them. Eating at home, food from the garden, getting dirty, playing outside and making the rules of the game with your friends were all wonderful. Riding in the back of the pickup when you had other options, as exciting as it might have been, was really foolish.

Who was it that did the research and instituted the child safety caps on medicine bottles, the helmets for bicyclers, football and hockey players, the safety plugs for electrical outlets, car seat, seat belts and airbags in our cars? Who came up with healthy foods recommendations, and all the other reportedly freedom-sapping, childhood-joy-stripping safety regulations which plague children today? It was Baby Boomers who were wise enough to understand that keeping our children safe is a good idea. Perhaps car seats were even pushed by someone born after 1947 who had a baby brother who flew through the windshield of a car and never recovered. Maybe someone whose child electrocuted herself by sticking something in an outlet came up with the idea of covering them. Perhaps the parent of a baby who choked on a toy with tiny parts advocated for warnings about age appropriateness. Who are we to make fun of the parents who took us seriously?

Perhaps parents today worry about too many things and hover over their little ones like helicopters on patrol. There is a difference between being careful and being fearful. Those of us who grew up in a different century and raised children in a different decade are not superior because we did things differently. Nor are we guilty of child neglect because we didn’t know of a better way to keep our children safe. Times were different. We did the best we could with the best information we had at the time. Parents today try to do the best they can with the information they have.

Besides, if they’re doing it wrong, we might remember that it was we, the Baby Boomers, who raised the parents of today’s children.
Copyright © 2015 Janet Jacobson and Sustaining the Northern Plains