The list of dos and don’ts as a parent is seemingly endless. And many of these ‘rules’ seem to have been introduced only in recent years. There’s no doubt that at worst they are simply well meaning; at best, potentially lifesaving. But it did lead us to wonder how those of us born in the 20th century ever survived childhood.
From dads taking their daughters to the park or parents letting kids walk on their own to school, to riding bikes without helmets and filling bottles with juice – there’s an endless parade of things our parents did that are now frowned upon. In some cases, they can even get you arrested.
Letting the kids go out alone
As a child, my friends and I would often traipse up to the local milk bar or to the park without an adult. And we’d spend whole weekends outside, riding bikes around the neighbourhood and only coming home for lunch. Don’t try doing that now though.
A US couple who practise ‘free-range parenting’ were investigated and found responsible for ‘unsubstantiated’ child neglect. Their sin? They allowed their 10-year-old son and six-year-old daughter to walk home by themselves from a park 1.6km away on a Saturday afternoon.
In 2014, a Florida mum was arrested for letting her seven-year-old son walk to the park alone. Another mum was put in jail for letting her nine-year-old daughter play in a nearby park while she was at work.
Smoking while pregnant, breastfeeding, or in cars
With the benefit of hindsight it’s hard to believe these ones were ever okay, but a few decades ago it was perfectly acceptable to smoke while pregnant or nursing (and drink, for that matter). The dangers of smoking while pregnant are well understood, but it took a while longer when it came to secondhand smoke. “My hubby remembers sitting in the back of his grandma’s car just about choking to death as she chain-smoked – with the windows closed,” says one of my Babyology colleagues.
It’s only this decade that most Australian states have introduced laws that ban smoking in cars while children are present. Good thing, too – the Environmental Protection Agency says smoking in a confined space exposes passengers to highly concentrated toxic air, even with the windows rolled down. It can also get into the interior materials, creating long-term health risks.
Sleeping babies on tummies
Another one that is well backed-up by research – sleeping babies on tummies increases the risk of SIDS. But it was common, even encouraged, among my parents’ generation in the late 1970s and early 1980s. “My mum would lie us on our tummies to sleep, despite the resistance and safety concerns. She carried on a treat about this with my babies,” says another Babyology team member.
The recommendation to put babies to sleep on their backs has remained in place since the 1990s, and is widely credited with a dramatic decline in sudden infant death syndrome.
Dipping dummies in things dummies aren’t meant to be dipped in
Honey, brandy, whisky, I’m talking to you. You’ve no doubt heard of these once-common remedies to soothe tired, teething or tetchy babies. Probably not going to get you arrested, but still not a good idea, no matter how many times Grandma suggests it (even though sometimes it might be really tempting).
Letting kids travel in the car without restraints
“We used to squeeze four or five kids across the back seats of cars for quick trips. The smaller cars included a Mini and a Toyota Celica … usually it also included school bags too!” says one of my colleagues.
While seat belts have been compulsory since the 1978, child restraints were not mandatory until 1986. There was no real way to protect babies in a crash until Rainsfords (now Britax) developed the baby safety capsule in 1984. Before that, babies were either held in an adult’s arms or in a traditional bassinet across the back seat secured by a seat belt. One Babyology colleague says her brother, now 32, was brought home from hospital in a cardboard box on the back seat of the car!
Today, the Australian standard for infant and child restraints is one of the strictest in the world. Find out more about the legal requirements around car restraints at Child Car Seats.
Taking photos in public places
You might not think so, given the proliferation of images and selfies everywhere you look, but it’s harder to take a photo in public nowadays. From public pools to parks, taking a simple snap can be a minefield. A columnist in Adelaide recently wrote about seeing parents whip into a frenzy about a man taking photos in a local park. He turned out to be a student taking nature pictures, but it sparked debate about how paranoid we have come about men being near children.
In 2008, an Arizona couple took their holiday snaps to be developed. An employee thought their children’s bath time photos were too racy, so he reported them to the authorities. The parents were arrested, leaving their children to go into protective custody for more than a month. A judge later ruled the images were perfectly innocent.
Threatening to let kids out of the car – and actually doing it
This happened to not one, but two of the Babyology staff. One shall remain nameless, but the other was me. Once, when I was about nine, my mum pulled over on a country road and made me get out – then drove off, leaving me standing there for a good 10 or 15 minutes until my dad finally came back to rescue me. Doubtless I was being rotten, but I still haven’t completely forgiven her.
My colleague says: “I was a horrid child, my mother would often lock the car doors and drive off without me (including once on a car ferry) and then come back for me later when I had ‘had time to think about it’.”
I’m sure both families’ car rides were a lot more peaceful from then on, but I can’t imagine any parent doing this to their child now!
Letting kids ride bikes without helmets
Australia was the first country in the world to introduce uniform national mandatory bicycle helmet laws from 1990. Those clunky, chunky Stackhats were the first helmets designed in Australia to comply with these strict standards, which is why they were so ubiquitous. (Interestingly, while stats showed compulsory helmets reduced the number of cyclist fatalities, they also found a drop in bicycle use because people hated wearing them).
Smacking their kids
How many people’s parents only stopped with the wooden spoon after it broke mid-smack? This one’s still a contentious issue, but there’s no doubting it’s less common than it was when we grew up – and it can get you in trouble with the law.
In 2015, a Perth mum was arrested after losing her temper and slapping her four-year-old son twice across the face when he took a bite out of an apple in a supermarket. She was charged with assault after a fellow shopper reported her to police.
Letting their children get a bit chubby
Less technology, more activity and a better diet meant child obesity wasn’t as much of an issue when we were kids as it is today. All that’s changed though, and as well as being a massive health crisis it is getting some parents into strife.
An eight-year-old boy who weighed in at 90kg was removed from his Cleveland home in 2011 because health officials thought his mother wasn’t doing enough to help him lose weight. The Journal of the American Medical Association ran a piece agreeing with the state’s measures, saying: “In severe instances of childhood obesity, removal from the home may be justifiable from a legal standpoint because of imminent health risks and the parents’ chronic failure to address medical problems.”
The rules certainly have changed since we were kids. Thankfully, (for the most part) for the better!