Thoughts

Chengdu Ain’t Never Heard of Helicopter Parenting

I’m sorry, but I just can’t this issue out of my head.

Every morning on our way to work, Chris and I pass-and endure near misses with-dozens, maybe even hundreds of kids riding their bikes to school.

These kids ride from near and far through the predawn darkness to be at school by 7 or 7:30 or 8:00am.  We usually see the kids with extracurriculars (read: nearly all of them) biking home again at 7 or 8 or 9 at night.  Again in the dark.

And its dark, dark people.  Like middle of the night dark.  Like, half of the streetlights don’t work dark.

And its not just bikes on the road, its cars.  Lots of cars.  Like more cars per capita than almost anywhere else in China.  Most of these folks have very, very questionable driving skills.

We know.  A guy once backed up 100 meters into the grill of our car going 15 mph just because he didn’t know how to use his reverse gear very well.  Making a right turn from the far left lane going the wrong way on a one-way street?  I’ve seen it happen so many times now that I barely flinch.

On top of the thousands of kids on bikes and the hundreds of cars, there are also hundreds of scooters on the road at this time of morning as well.

The scooters scare me the most.  For some reason they are the greatest offenders when it comes to whipping through red lights at major intersections no matter how many times you honk to announce your (very large and red and scary) presence.  While equipped with headlights, no one turns them on.  Would waste the battery.

Now here’s where I get really freaked out.  Those kids on bike?  Not one of them has a bike-light.  Not a single one of them has a helmet. None.  I’ve never, ever seen one.

The little kids standing on the front of their mom and dad’s scooters?  Ditto. No helmet, not even a seat-they usually stand between their parents legs.  A lot of times mom and dad have a helmet but not the kid.

I’m not some crazy safety paranoid person.  I don’t see anything wrong with a kid biking to school in the dark as long as they are careful and take some precautions.

In fact, I think its fantastic that all of these kids bike to school.  They seem to enjoy it, their parents drive less, and they get some good exercise.

But to me, in this city, with this many insane drivers, and so many people operating so many motor vehicles with zero practical training, these kid’s daily pilgrimages to school-sans helmet, sans bike-light-seem almost suicidal.

I can understand that maybe 20 or even 10 years ago, there weren’t many cars, there weren’t any scooters on the road.  The utility of a helmet probably seemed laughably negligible in relationship to its cost.  Truly, people might not have needed them.

But now, I don’t think so.  I can’t imagine that in a city of 13 million, every single kid gets to school safely every single day.  I see way too many car accidents and scooter accidents and black eyes around town to believe that a kid on his bike is somehow immune from our dismal traffic safety records.

So why no helmets?!?!  Why not even a light on the kid’s bike so we can see them coming!?!?

I know a piece of compressed styrofoam isn’t going to save every kid from injury and death and I know some kids will refuse to wear them, but come on! At least give your kid a fighting chance against the scary bad drivers in the fake BMWs out there!

I’ve literally NEVER seen one helmet on a kid despite living spitting distance from at least 3 different schools.

I know people here care deeply and fanatically about their kids.  I know they love them.  I know they work like hell to give them every advantage they possibly can.

So I just can not fathom why the uniform no-helmet thing for kids.  We have them here.  They aren’t outrageously expensive.  If mom and dad are wearing them on their scooters, why not the kid?

Am I missing something here?  Is there some cultural explanation that I’m not getting?

Or am I just a silly foreigner for having a coronary every time we turn a pre-dawn corner into a flock of helmet-less children?

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6 thoughts on “Chengdu Ain’t Never Heard of Helicopter Parenting

  1. Makes you crazy eh? I asked about it once in Taiwan (10 years ago) and they told me that adults were mandated by law to have helmets but kids weren’t. They asked if I would make my kid wear a helmet if he/she didn’t want to. Some people seemed shocked that I would (and I do). I think it just takes time for that sort of thing to become normal. Kind of like seat belts in the US (and helmets come to think of it). They weren’t common when I was a kid 20 years ago but now they are totally expected. Hopefully all your questions will lead some people to consider it.

  2. I find/found it unsettling too! In Beijing we would see so many crazy driving methods, from your cross traffic lane u-turns to driving against the traffic flow to avoid having to drive further up in the correct lane and turn around at the light (if there was one). I swear, people just tended to drive exactly as they biked. Also, we saw electricians fixing the wire cables stretching across the road with just a ladder that was being held at the correct tilt by two men. Of course, this would be in winter, with snow and ice and cars swerving around them. But back to the bikes and the lights — from what we learned, it was illegal to have lights on cars even so many years (not sure how many) back because it messes with night vision and makes it much harder on those being passed by the lit vehicle. Even in daylight though, my biggest prayer while driving was to never hit a bike. I had one slide under my front wheel while stopped at a light that still freaked me out enough. Maybe as cars become too congested, China will put some effort into at least making bike lanes to promote biking again and allowing for better safety. America still needs work in many places here — but thank God we have the safety campaigns and ability to easily get children’s bike helmets. Maybe you could find a savvy entrepreneur that shares your safely vision and sees a business opportunity as well!

  3. That is so fascinating that the lights rule was to protect night vision! Nowadays the fancy car people of Chengdu LOVE their high beams and keep them on even in heavy traffic. Not sure why.

    I like the idea of doing something about this situation and I was thinking about what you both said. You’re right, helmets are still a relatively new thing in the U.S., just like seat belts. Helmets are part of the solution, but maybe bike lanes are even more so. We have some bike lanes but most of the time they are filled with scooters. And if a car wants to drive the wrong way down a one way street, (often) he just uses the bike lane.

    We’ll see what happens. The Chinese government here doesn’t seem to be a huge fan of foreigners getting involved in their community affairs, much less diplomatic spouses but maybe this is one of those “harmless” issues that they’d be happy for anyone, even a laowai, to take on.

  4. Maybe someone in AmCham (American Chamber of Commerce) at the Embassy can direct you to businesses in the area that might listen to your thoughts and possibly take some initiative. In Beijing the Consular Officers had an AmCham portfolio, if I remember correctly. I would start asking there.

    Keep us posted on this one!

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