by Gregory Keer
For years, my 13-year-old looked the part of a skateboarder. Benjamin rocked the latest Vans shoes (is it me or do they have a shelf life of three weeks?) and RVCA shirts (can we work on catchier acronyms, people?). He could also spout specifics about longboards versus short ones and explain why certain wheels were better for tricks than others.
Funny thing is, he wouldn’t actually step on a piece of rolling wood. Not even to go across the back patio.
But recently, after his long stretch of feeling too clumsy to look cool on a board, Benjamin found friends willing to show him patience as he learned to wheel around the neighborhood on plywood and pituitary power. As long as Benjamin demonstrated caution and good judgment, we allowed him to travel everywhere from his friends’ houses to the mall.
My wife and I delighted in the exercise and confidence he gained in his jaunts around town. He was never much of a cyclist, so this was a real advancement for him. And there was the added benefit of not having to drive him everywhere. Yay for us, we thought. We were shedding our overprotective nature to allow our son to spread his wings.
Then came the scrapes and bruises from minor tumbles on concrete.
“You should wear your helmet the next time you ride,” I suggested to my son, following his longest skateboard trek yet.
Whatever goodwill I had built up for giving him his four-wheel freedom rolled away. “No one’s parents make them wear a helmet,” he shot back.
I thought about this for a moment. He was right. I never saw kids wearing protective skull gear out on the streets.
“Helmets look ridiculous,” he pointed out.
“Accidents look worse,” I scored.
“Only people doing tricks at skate parks have to wear them,” he added.
Another point for the 13-year-old.
I relented. I know, I know, it was the wrong decision, but there’s still time for me to redeem myself.
Another week went by. Wendy and I discussed it ad nauseum and decided to put our collective foot down. “I’ll buy you the coolest helmet on the market if you’ll wear it,” I offered.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” he replied.
Still, I brought him to the skate shop nearby where I asked the sales guy to convince Benjamin about helmets.
“Uh, most kids don’t wear ‘em,” he droned. Well, that wasn’t much help.
Walking out of the store without a new helmet, Benjamin threatened us. “I won’t skateboard ever again if you make me wear one.”
I have to hand it to the kid. He knew we might cave if we thought he’d return to his traditional couch potato lifestyle.
We stuck to our guns. Benjamin stuck to his — for two days before asking me to bring his board to the park, where he was helping younger kids in after-school groups. He was hoping I’d forget about the helmet so he could skate to his friend’s house after work.
I brought the board and helmet to him at the end of the day.
“I’m not wearing this thing,” he groused.
“Do you know how many parents we’ve talked to who have given us horror stories of kids they know with brain injuries?”
“Not from riding on the sidewalk,” he snarled.
“Even from riding on the sidewalk,” I said. “One boy hit a stupid pebble, landed on his head, and is still in a coma.”
“Well, it’s your problem for talking to other parents,” he reasoned.
We argued back and forth with me finally throwing up my hands and leaving him in the parking lot, the helmet hanging limply from his hand.
Seconds later, I received a text: “I hate you! I’m not going 2 talk 2 u 4 the rest of the week.”
As ridiculous as that sounds now, it stung when I read it at the time.
“I don’t hate you, though,” I texted back. “I just want you to be safe.”
“But I hate u,” was all I got in response.
I stewed in self-pity and anger until my wife got home.
“He said WHAT to you?” she fumed. “That’s it. Play date’s over.” We picked up Benjamin from his friend’s house and told him he was grounded until further notice.
Now for my redemption. Benjamin didn’t complain about being embarrassed in front of his buddy. He apologized for his rudeness to me. At home, he hugged me a lot.
This is not to say that our son hasn’t tried to raise the helmet issue again, but he has made wearing it a habit. He’s also been a nicer kid to us than he has been since adolescence kicked in.
I’d like to think that it’s because we set boundaries for him. While it’s often painful to bicker with our beloved child and uncomfortable to curb his burgeoning independence, my wife and I are doing our own growing up as parents. We’ve learned that however monstrous our son may seem in fighting against us, we’d rather avoid the scarier consequences of not drawing the line on safety.
Gregory Keer is a father first, then an award-winning writer, teacher and a guest expert in national media. He can be reached at his fatherhood website, www.familymanonline.com.