Where to set the safety threshold?

Since I’ve been involved with designing and marketing play apparatus, fall surfacing, climbing walls and skateparks the issue of protecting kids from falls and the use of helmets has figured prominently throughout my five decades in this field. My experience leads me to the opinion that helmets, and other protective gear should be worn when the player has the intention of testing the limits of their skill or when the environment is unpredictable. For example helmets when dirt biking or on busy streets are a good idea but may not necessary when playing in the neighborhood.

What makes us safe is not protective devices but judgment, honed reflexes, and fundamental movement skills. The goal is to reduce the frequency and severity of injury. If you watch a toddler learning to walk they have several innate behaviors that help achieve this end. When they are about to fall forward their reaction is to resumes their crawling gait and extend their arms in what is called “protective arm reflex.” When the fall is backwards they drop to their bottoms. In both cases these instinctual reactions to the job of head protection very well.

The question arises then, what is the impact of using a safety helmet? In talking with child development physiologists they suggest several issues. First they suspect, although there is little research on this, that such protective gear may disrupt the normal progression of reflex maturation. They also are concerned that the lack of consequences when falling may retard the child’s ability to form proper assessments of their skill, i.e. reduce their judgment. Finally they speculate that it reinforces a pattern of parenting that is over protective and ultimately harmful.

From this example we can see that, what might appear as a good idea is fraught with complexity and perhaps unintended consequences.

From this post on playground design, questioning a proposal by the ASTM Playground Surfacing Committee (yes, that is a thing) to engineer more safeguards into public playgrounds.

The motivation appears to be that the goal of improving playground safety with the current standard has not significantly reduced the number of hospital visits.

To my mind this is not unlike the logic of the medieval doctor who, when their patient did not get well with one blood letting concluded that they needed more blood letting.

Parenting seems like a delicate balancing act. You can set the safety threshold too high, leaving your child too brittle for the real world they will someday inhabit without you. The anti-vaxxers seem to fall prey to that miscalculation.

I'm very curious to study the parenting style and childhood peer set of kids who become serial entrepreneurs because those are people who seem to have a better understanding than the average person of the concept of risk/reward and thus a healthier acceptance of failure. An overly cautious personality, maybe someone who has always had good grades in school, may only want to play deterministic games, where the relationship between hard work and success is linear.

Entrepreneurship, especially in tech these days, is a probabilistic game. That's not a comfortable style of game for those who bruise easily. Watch someone who isn't in a probabilistic modality sit at a blackjack table and witness their discomfort with every losing hand. Their safety threshold may be set so high the only acceptable play is to never sit down at the table at all.

[That's not to say even those who think probabilistically think they're going to lose when they sit down at a table, and that goes for entrepreneurs as well. The only way the whole system works is if 10 out of 10 entrepreneurs think they'll succeed even as they know 9 out of 10 will fail. As long as everyone thinks they're that 1 out of 10, we get that 1 out of 10.]