11/18/2011 08:00 am ET | Updated Jan 18, 2012

Bubble Wrapped Babies

Like many new parents I feel torn between two mindsets. On one hand, I have the primal urge to protect my children, to catch them every time they slip and shelter them from all things sharp and pointy. The other part of me desperately wants to raise my children with both a strong sense of play and the ability to shrug off a scraped knee. I fully expect them to toddle home with cuts, bruises and the occasional broken bone. I don't want them to live in a bubble wrapped world where every table corner is a black-eye hazard and every ladder is a stairway to cracked skulls. Unfortunately, this is the world in which we now parent.

A recent study, by Dr. Gary Smith, of the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, has found that there have been 209 reported cases of children drowning in portable backyard pools between 2001 and 2009. One news articles featuring this study offered parents helpful suggestions such as: do not have a drink, chat with friends, or be on a cell phone while supervising children splashing in kiddie pools. This utterly dismayed me, for this is how I often prefer to supervise my children.

At first glance, this is terrifying, yet another worry for the overly-anxious mother. However, upon further reading of the study, at least two-thirds of these drownings occurred when children climbed a ladder into one of those extra-large, above ground, swimming pools (the ones you can actually swim in). And here I was terrified of our 18-inch wading pool -- not that I would let my toddlers play in it unsupervised.

I could go on a two-thousand word diatribe about how the sensational media is perpetuating a culture of fear. I could lament about how much easier it is to gain viewers/readers with a story about the everyday hazards resting in our own homes, but this has been said before, numerous times. However, I do want to discuss how this is affecting parenting and whether raising a generation of bubble wrapped babes is best for our children.

According to the vast majoring of baby proofing websites, and Pregnant in Heel's Rosie Pope, the following is a list of the minimum dangers from which you must avidly protect your little ones:

  • Open windows (Think Eric Clapton and his "Tears in Heaven".)
  • Window blinds (The cords have been linked to some 495 injuries and deaths, according to the site Parents for Window Blind Safety.)
  • Electrical outlets (There are even outlet covers for ones that are always in use, like a lamp plug.)
  • Toilets (Did you know that these little sewers are potential drowning hazards?)
  • Garbage cans (Locked strap on top? I don't think so... this may also husband-proof the trash can.)
  • Table corners (We bought the plastic stick-on covers. It took our first approximately fifteen minutes to learn how to pull them off.)
  • Bathtub spout covers (We wouldn't want the babe to bump her head!)
  • Soft door jams (So little fingers won't get pinched by a closing door.)
  • Medicine (Are all your prescriptions locked away in a Vita Gaurd Medicine Safe? Me neither, I just put them in the top cupboards.)
  • Stilettos (Rosie Pope is very concerned that these footwear may end up in the hands of a crawler.)

I am by no means supporting allowing tots to run wild in the streets carrying sharp scissors. And, I am quite aware that I have birthed two daughters with unexceptional gross motor skills. Neither daughter has ever tried to climb out of her crib before the age of three, scale rock climbing walls, or jump down wooden steps footed in cotton socks. Furthermore, since both girls are short, a closed door usually provided enough of a challenge to prevent most disasters.

That said, I completely understand that many parents are not as lucky to raise children with lagging physical ability. Still, I firmly believe that the baby proofing industry is thriving on terrifying parents into padding every pointy object and sharp corner in the home. As a teacher, and a mother, I have strong convictions that children learn best from first-hand experience, not by being told what not to do. A child that is jumping on a couch and falls, breaking his arm, is much less likely to do that the next time.

In my house I have one simple test for the necessity of baby proofing: if there is a possibility of death, or loss of a major limb, we must be vigilant. If not, then that is why Johnson and Johnson invented band-aids.

In the July/August edition of The Atlantic, Lori Gottlieb wrote the insightful piece, How to Land Your Kids in Therapy. The gist of the article is that the when parents shelter their children from experiencing failure and disappointment, they don't allow the children to find their own happiness. Psychiatrist Paul Bohn speaks of a common playground scenario -- imagine a toddler running, tripping, and falling. The parent that leaps in and comforts the child as soon as he hits the ground, prevents the child from observing his own emotions. He cannot learn from the incident if he isn't allowed to experience it for himself.

After all, if a child never falls, he will never learn how to pick himself up.