"Children almost always hang onto things tighter than their parents think they will." Right? RIGHT?!
August 2, 2012 8:39 AM   Subscribe

Our daughter has come to an age where she wants to try more and more thrilling amusement park rides. We have come to an age where we don't. How do parents with their own fears let their kids go and have fun on the thrill rides, when accompanying them is becoming less and less of an option? And, if the anxieties are such that even watching them from the ground is too gut-wrenching, and sitting at home while the kiddo goes with others is still quite nerve-wracking, what might work to deal with those fears?

To explain a bit, when I was younger, I loved the wildest and craziest rollercoasters I could find, and went on them at every opportunity, and then multiple times in a row. My father would take me, to a point (I am an only child) and when I got older, we'd bring a friend to any and all events like this. For example, at Darien Lake, we'd go on the Viper about twenty times in a row, when it was new and the scariest thing around. Now they all seem to be so much more extreme and scary. At some point in my twenties, they stopped being even remotely enjoyable. I think the last one I was on, until recently, was the one at New York, New York in Vegas. When I mentioned this to my parents, they confessed that it was always a horror for my father, as he was terrified and sick - I just never noticed it because I was, well, a kid. (I've since thanked him, and now this has come around to haunt me much to their amusement.)

mrgood was always okay with rides, though he never sought them out and their family just didn't go to amusement parks when the kids were young. He had older sisters to go with as a teen. He had a bad experience on the Mega Drop about ten years ago, where his restraint didn't keep him in tight, and he slipped under and out a bit. He was freaked from that point, and we both happily and willingly just stopped doing those sorts of things and haven't missed them one bit.

For the past two years, either he or I have been able to take our now eight year old daughter on things like the Crazy Mouse at the CNE, but even that's getting hard for us. And my fears have gotten worse - I had to be taken off a Ferris Wheel this past Christmas because I was sick and shaking and crying. Even high, open metal staircases and bridges are starting to give me the willies. I've been trying to be brave for her sake, but I'm failing. mrgood's been okay, but he's said that he wishes she'd sit more still, and hang on always, and not want to swing the Ferris Wheel car, and not want to put her hands up on roller coasters. When we're with her, conservative behaviour is required. We can't always be with her, though, and this is not a reasonable thing to demand of her for our comfort when she's away from us or older. Boundary pushing will happen, our issues needn't be her issues, and kids will be kids, and we all know it.

Today littlepeagood's camp is taking her to Canada's Wonderland. I had a mini meltdown (at home, alone) yesterday, because I couldn't stomach the thought of her on some of the really scary rides with her goofy little friends and only a teenage counselor to watch out for her. She's of a height and weight where nothing would be off limits for those reasons. She's also pretty fearless. After talking with the counselors, and reviewing the Rider Height and Assistance Guide and watching videos of the rides she was interested in, as a family we came up with a list of rides up to and including most Level 4 rides that were appropriate and acceptable, but ruled out Level 5s for today. While I thought we were being pretty generous, there were still tears and foot stamping, because, and it's true, many of her friends have seasonal passes and go on any ride they want to, all the time (with their parents, primarily.)

There are a few other factors. Our kid is wonderful and bright and creative and active, but she is not, say, steadfast and responsible and reliable, her age considered. Our daughter has anxieties too, and is only just starting to get some help for them as wait lists are long. And her anxieties today were more about not being with her best friends and being left out rather than about fear of any rides. We're also pursuing some testing for issues she's been having at school - think ADHD-type things. She's not always the most mindful kid; will zone out and hyper-focus on things and will also get incredibly silly (just like a typical 8 year old) - but tends to try to be the craziest of the crazy little girls doing all the crazy little girl things. She has good friends who often talk her down - but they cannot and should not be responsible for her, especially in this situation. Behaviourally, we've had a few minor issues with her at this camp, such as where even though the counselors remind kids to put on sunblock and drink water (and other kids do so without issue) she hasn't for whatever reasons and she got a sunburn and heat exhaustion, twice now over three weeks. Yesterday was a swim day and she got very sunburned, and came home starting a migraine (she's prone to these.) This is partly due to her personal issues like spacing out during instructions (and at school she's getting a Strategic Support Team to help her create systems for better listening, organizing and following through) and just goofing off because she's eight. And it's partly because while the teenage counselors are great fun and are well-trained and good people, they're not parents about things like that. (Her known consequence for not refreshing her sunblock when told to, as she's been warned, is that she does not get to swim with the camp tomorrow, if it matters.) They know her well, as it's her third year at this camp - but it's the first time she's been on this particular field trip. If she were a really sensible kid, I don't think I'd be half as worried, but she's a risk-taker and an adventurer. We've tried to support that part of her with great adventure camps, Circus arts classes and horse riding and hours and hours on the monkey bars and stuff - but the thrill rides are beyond us. I'm worried that like with slices of Swiss cheese, a whole lot of holes will line up and something terrible will happen.

Personally, I've talked to my doctor. I have Ativan to help me cope a bit - I've been on other meds in the past, but am not currently on anything on a daily basis. I've restrained myself from looking up accident records for the park. When a news article came on about a rollercoaster being stuck for a while the other day, I walked out of the room. We watched youtube videos of people having fun on the rides and being perfectly okay last night and this morning. We went over the ride rules and read the "no standing up" signs. And I am working hard to push bad thoughts out of my brain. I'm writing this out now, and am going to then go outside to try to keep busy today by trimming bushes in the yard and such, to keep my mind off thoughts of her flying out of rollercoaster seats or being silly and jumping off giant swings.

But its only working so much. My cel phone just rang, and my first thought was "They're calling from camp about an accident and it's an hour away and I cant get to her." (I've begged mrgood to call the home phone or text only today, not to keep the line clear but to lessen the minor heart attacks when it rings.)

And she's going to want to go on more and bigger and scarier rides later this summer, and she's going to be invited to these places with friends. And next Easter, we're going to Vegas and she wants to do the rides there. And I just can't. Her father doesn't think he can. We have friends who'll take her on them, but we'll have to watch and worry. And we all have to learn to be okay with her being a teenager some day, and she'll be going on Sky Screaming Death Dropping Venomous Whizzing Spiral Upside-down Super Speedy Roller Coasters of Fear.

My questions are: When did "fun" like this become "fear" for you? Is this anywhere near a normal feeling for parents? I can't find anything really about this specific focus for my fears. Is there SCIENCE behind why our feelings about thrill rides changed? What can we do to feel better and maybe either go on more rides with her ourselves, or to relax and let her enjoy herself on them? Do I really need to get therapy so my kid can enjoy thrill rides without me harshing her mellow? Have any of you ever just said "No, rides are stupid and we don't care what your friends are doing, NO NEVER NOPE" -- and if your parents did that to you, what came of it? (Bonus question: When did scaring yourself silly on purpose become "fun" entertainment that people actually pay, and pay a decent amount of money, for?)

Thank you, in anticipation, of whatever I can glean from this.

It's making me sad that my child cannot believe I ever willingly went on a Skycoaster and screamed myself hoarse and liked it. And though, as it's said in Charlotte's Web about the rope swing in Farmer Zuckerman's barn: "Children almost always hang onto things tighter than their parents think they will" and I'm repeating that like a mantra - there's still that word in there: almost
posted by peagood to Health & Fitness (42 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Please don't let your anxieties become your child's anxieties. Let her ride coasters with her friends until they all puke.
posted by Jairus at 8:51 AM on August 2, 2012 [75 favorites]

You might take some small comfort in knowing that _lots_ of people go on these thrill rides, and not all of them are responsible and reliable. Plenty of people will shake the car or stick their hands out, and they almost never get injured. (I'm not saying it's a good idea.)

(On preview, I agree with Jairus)
posted by richb at 8:52 AM on August 2, 2012

I'm not a parent but I don't particularly enjoy a lot of rides, and have been that way all my life. If anything, as I have gotten older I have gotten slightly more daring about them. That said, no, this does not seem like a normal level of fear to me. I have never personally known anyone who was harmed in any way by any ride, and I think there are far more dangerous things your kid will eventually do. I would just try and let her go on anything she wants to... although it sounds like that might be really, really hard for you-- I do think your fears are unrealistic.
posted by queens86 at 8:52 AM on August 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

Jarius has it; exposing her to what's going on in your head in order to get her to stop going on the rides (and, therefore, quelling your fears) may work, but then she'll be the one developing these neuroses and asking these questions twenty years down the line.
posted by griphus at 8:55 AM on August 2, 2012

I think what you are lacking is context. Your child is in far more danger (relatively speaking) on the car ride to the amusement park than she is from any of the rides there. She is probably in more danger of being stuck by lightening than she is suffering anything more serious than a upset stomach from the flaming roller coaster of death. Presumably you don't get this upset every time you drive her to school or a friends house, yet the danger there is actually worse.

Worrying about our children is of course normal. Letting it ruin your day like this isn't. Have you daughter text a few times during the day. My wife is a worrier and when my daughter is away for the day (she is 800 miles away this week) my wife will get several texts a day that state simply, "I'm still alive." I don't think my wife appreciates the humor but I think it's hilarious.
posted by COD at 8:56 AM on August 2, 2012 [42 favorites]

Imposing your own fears for yourself onto your child is deeply unfair to your child.

You know these rides are safe. You KNOW. In your brain. Even if not in your heart. Listen to your brain. When you talk to your daughter about this, talk with your brain. It will be extremely unfair to your daughter for her to feel guilt about going on those rides, or for her to feel scared just because you do. Let her go, let her have fun, stay home and take one of those ativans and watch a movie, and when she comes home and wants to talk about her exciting day, try your best to channel your childhood joy into your face and your words, and let your daughter have the same joys you did.
posted by Kololo at 8:57 AM on August 2, 2012 [9 favorites]

This is an intellectual answer to a gut anxiety problem, and as such maybe not so helpful, but assuming the amusement park is not grossly mismanaged your daughter is statistically far safer on the rides than she is in the car on the way there. The trade organization for parks has some stats.
posted by Wretch729 at 8:57 AM on August 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

I feel your pain. I too as a kid rode them all. Again and again. Then we had 3 kids all close in age. I would ride with them at the various places on the Jersey shore and then at the SIx Flags in NJ and one in Florida. Nothing fazed me or two of them. One was friggin scared shitless. Literally once. He was a great excuse for my wife to not go. I will wait with your brother while you two and your father enjoy yourself.

One time we went to a water park/amusement rides park in Wildwood. My kids were good swimmers, but they were young and wanted to go on the big drop waterfall type thing. I was scared to go myself and scared for them. I watched the ride and there were many kids their age or younger going. A few adults. I was determined to not let my fear bleed into them, so I said I would go one time to check it out and see. I went. It was scary fun. I let my kids go on their own over and over. One cut their nose when on one ride the mat popped up and hit their face at the end. I saw a guard who gave me a disinfectant wipe and a bandaid and realized all was ok.

Later I was convinced in the name of testing its safety for the kids to go on one of those coasters where your legs dangle and the track is above you. Oh crap. Scared and having fun at the same time. But I was never more nauseous than I was for the next day after riding that ride. Last time ever.

So we were forced to either limit the kids or let them go themselves. We realized that statistically, they were safe as taking a bath. We could not eliminate every risk in their lives. We could certainly limit them by limiting what we let them do, but why if the risk was reasonable? As an option trader, I assess and take risk all the time. Obviously it is not physical harm risk, but risk reward can be a good thing. (Although not a reason to allow her to go, these places are absolutely fearful of risk and getting sued or shut down for safety reasons. Assume they are not allowing people on rides unless they think it is very safe. They are insured too so someone likes their risk reward ratio.)

We let our kids have (buy their own) paintball guns, let them go exploring in the woods on their own and let them generally be kids. I think it is the biggest best gift you can give your children is to let them grow up trying things, making mistakes and making decisions on their own.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:59 AM on August 2, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I had to be taken off a Ferris Wheel this past Christmas because I was sick and shaking and crying. Even high, open metal staircases and bridges are starting to give me the willies.

You have a phobia, and it's interfering with your life. You should really, really seek out therapy--not for your daughter, but for your own quality of life.

But also, yeah, it's not fair to her, particularly if she has social anxiety about being left out.

For what it's worth, I'm a bit spooked by heights, and don't do rollercoasters at all because of a panic attack I had on an amusement park ride at 10ish. However, I have no problems with loved ones going on them and don't have to leave the room in response to this fear. The extent here seems to be in the "genuine phobia" territory, which is why I think you should seek professional help.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:00 AM on August 2, 2012 [32 favorites]

as a family we came up with a list of rides up to and including most Level 4 rides that were appropriate and acceptable, but ruled out Level 5s for today.

I don't understand this. What is it that you think this is accomplishing? (This is a genuine question; I am not clear on what concrete thing it is you think is more likely to happen on a 5 than a 4, if that's what this bargain is about.)

And next Easter, we're going to Vegas and she wants to do the rides there. We have friends who'll take her on them, but we'll have to watch and worry

No you won't. Split the group on Adventure Ride Day and go do something else, leaving your kid free to enjoy herself. Watching her does not protect her.

Do I really need to get therapy so my kid can enjoy thrill rides without me harshing her mellow?

Yes. Your fear and the restrictions you are placing on your child to manage your fear is beyond reasonable. Your telephone restriction with your husband is indicative of an anxiety that has broken out of standard parental concerns and into something that needs professional attention. From what you're written, you're also making your anxiety an issue for your kid in ways that are not to her actual benefit, and you need to attend to this.

I know you've written thoughtfully here and mapped things out in what must read to you as a logical narrative of reasonable fears and reasonable responses, but you need to hear that this really, really is not what you are describing.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:02 AM on August 2, 2012 [53 favorites]

I used to ride the roller coasters when I was a kid, and now, as an adult, I've got injuries that prevent me from riding, in addition to the fact that I just don't like them anymore.

Your fears are irrational, you need to seek help for this because it starts with roller coasters then you're afraid of bridges, then freeway flyovers, then freeways, then the car, etc.

Amusement parks are made for stupid kids. They just are. Trust that they aren't death traps requiring safety equipment and back-up parachutes.

You need to let your daughter go and enjoy herself, and you need therapy before this gets any worse.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:12 AM on August 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

[until I read this question, I had no idea you lived in Toronto, peagood. Now I feel all fluttery because you are so smart and give such great advice AND you live in my city! What a thrill!]

I experienced a similar seismic shift in my own life and it wasn't actually about the things I was fearing, it was about an untreated anxiety problem. Once I started therapy it was much easier to be reasonable and realize that I was having a disproportionate reaction to a normal part of life.

You are allowed to limit the rides that your daughter goes on, of course, and you are even allowed to ban her from amusement parks completely. But that won't actually solve what's happening here. Explore the idea of talk therapy or anti-anxiety meds.
posted by kate blank at 9:16 AM on August 2, 2012

Limiting your daughter's life because of your phobia is beyond unfair. Get help.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:33 AM on August 2, 2012 [8 favorites]

Trust that they aren't death traps requiring safety equipment and back-up parachutes

Yes. Remember that amusement parks are undoubtedly insured. Insurance companies are if nothing else risk-averse. If these rides were not safe, no insurance company would touch them, and amusement parks would not be in business.
posted by chazlarson at 9:34 AM on August 2, 2012

As others have said, your fears are irrational and you should probably just work on not letting them affect you and your family's lives. I've had anxiety issues myself and the number one thing I do to deal with them is separate my feelings (which are not necessarily rational) from my logical view of the world. The feelings are real and do affect my life, but that doesn't mean I have to listen to them or pretend that they are justified. So I would suggest realizing that you have anxiety over this and not feeling bad about it, but at the same time not rationalize negatively affecting your child's ability to have fun and be a kid as something sensible just because it helps you avoid your anxious feelings.

If she were a really sensible kid, I don't think I'd be half as worried, but she's a risk-taker and an adventurer.

It seems like a lot of your fears are based on worrying that your child is going to put herself in harm's way and that particular fear is especially unfounded. The vast majority of serious injuries from amusement park rides are directly caused by negligence on the part of ride operators or mechanical problems on the rides themselves. Riders are inherently safe if the rides are in good working order and the safety precautions are followed, and in almost all cases where there is an injury it's because of a freak accident that is in no way the fault of the victim. Literally millions of children, including ones with severe behavioral problems, ride on amusement park rides every year, and the handful of them who do get injured do not get injured because they are adventurous. Being adventurous is a great quality that will help your daughter and you're doing her and yourself a disservice by looking at it through the lens of your anxiety.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:37 AM on August 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

A lot of people get sick of thrill rides as they get older. But that's not fear, that's dislike. I don't know of people who loved thrill rides and grew to be scared of them (your father was always scared of them). Your fear is really out of line, and the "these are okay, these are not" rules based on nothing in particular isn't going to help your daughter. Neither will these rules help her anxiety about being left out -- she's being left out, because her friends can go on rides and she can't, and there's no reason for her not to except that you are afraid.

Amusement parks are very safe. Much safer than driving in a car, or taking circus classes, and probably safer than monkey bars or horse-riding, too.

You're really trying to strike a balance, being fair to your daughter -- but you're not, because you are phobic, and she isn't. Look into therapy, or anti-anxiety pills.
posted by jeather at 9:39 AM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

In terms of your current issues, I've been to Wonderland and riden on the biggest rides there. Those things come down and hold you tight in your spot. Being wiggly or adventerous won't matter because there is literally nowhere to go. She's safe at Wonderland on the modern rides that scare the crap out because Wonderland has a vested interest in keeping its guests safe. They spend good money to make scary safe rides and they test them and perform maintenance on a regular schedule and will err on the side of caution, always.

The larger issue is that you have an anxiety and you're allowing it to not only rule your own life, but is also controlling your daughter. You need to address your issues with some form of therapy. The phobia/anxiety you experience is not healthy and can be helped. Honestly some of the ways you describe your daughter make me think the anxiety extends beyond a fear or rides or heights and I know that you don't want to hold her back. Talk to a professional about this soon because things will only get harder as she gets older
posted by GilvearSt at 9:43 AM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Lucinda and I are reading your question, peagood, and we're talking on IM about our own childhood. (We're sisters.) Please consider this a joint post.

Our mom dealt with anxiety her entire life, and most of the time it was trained squarely on us. She died a couple of years ago, and there's not a day that goes by that we don't think "I am really glad we outlived her, so that her overall mission was accomplished."

We, too, were smart, flighty kids. We loved her very much. And there were very ordinary things that we didn't get to do as kids because she had envisioned worst case scenarios for them. While she did find some help after we were adults, to this day we deal with anger, guilt, and irrational anxieties of our own. We both have our own kids now, and we wrestle with all of this.

From a 30+ years later perspective: Please, try to fix things while you can.
posted by gnomeloaf at 9:53 AM on August 2, 2012 [23 favorites]

I'm not answering your question, and I have nothing insightful to add except that I could have written every word of your question. Reading these answers is like a punch in the gut, and I'm trying to get past feeling offended ("But you people just don't understaaaaaaand!") and realizing that I'm not doing my children any favors by not dealing with my anxieties and very specific phobia. I have work to do. If you find a successful coping mechanism, let me know!
posted by Cloudberry Sky at 9:54 AM on August 2, 2012 [12 favorites]

Best answer: I will say there's a happy medium here. I think it's fine to forbid an 8 year old from going on the biggest and scariest of the rides, just because they might be too scary, or she might have nightmares etc. That is a totally reasonable normal parental limit to impose -- you can go on the scary rides, but not the scariest, until you're a little older. She's not going to resent you in adulthood just for placing some restrictions that ease up as she gets older.

And I think it's fine/normal for you to feel a bit of worry when she goes on rides.

Now, your worries here go beyond that, into territory that is probably worth seeking help for. I just want to point out that getting help won't mean that you need to let her ride anything she wants to. It will mean being able to let her do the normal, kid-appropriate things without your feeling panicky.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:17 AM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It's taken a lot of work for me to internalize this, but:

Worry is not a down payment on grief.

As DarlingBri said, "Watching her does not protect her." Sometimes worries about certain people come from an almost unconscious superstition -- that there's something you can do to prevent what's already a very unlikely outcome (being injured on a ride). There isn't. Life is uncertain and things happen, but not nearly as often as we worriers think they will.
posted by fiercecupcake at 10:23 AM on August 2, 2012 [9 favorites]

Have any of you ever just said "No, rides are stupid and we don't care what your friends are doing, NO NEVER NOPE" -- and if your parents did that to you, what came of it?

I grew into an adult who has so many regrets regarding things I didn't do because my mother would have been terrified had she known.

I was very over-protected and sheltered as a child and adolescent (and she still tries to do it now that I'm almost 42 and have two kids of my own!). I wasn't allowed to roam the town like my friends did, I wasn't allowed to ride roller coasters, I wasn't allowed to go to sleep-over camps. I wasn't allowed to go to the INXS concert when I was a senior in high school, but really and truly all of my friends went and came to school the next day in their concert T-shirts and it hurt to not have been able to share that with them.

I attended a college close to home because I was afraid to go farther. I declined a semester abroad because when I told my mother about it she burst into tears. This constant anxiety from her has tainted our adult relationship. I feel she should have let me spread my wings but instead she clipped them and instilled many of her own fears in me.

I vowed to treat my children differently and I think I've done a really good job. One is cautious by nature but the other takes on the world every day she can. It terrifies me. It absolutely does. I want to protect her but I know I can't. We can't protect them against everything.

On preview, what Greg Nog said is brilliant: You are a source of love and support as she explores the world; you are not the steel bar.
posted by cooker girl at 10:25 AM on August 2, 2012 [28 favorites]

From the opposite corner, I was a kid who HATED roller coasters and just about anything fast, tall, and scary. I got teased by my friends for being a weenie. My mom was generally good about standing up for me, but even she had moments of "come on, just try it" or "it's just a tiny ride". As an adult, I still get majorly overprotective and bristly when someone tries to talk me into going on a ride, because I go back to that huge feeling of anxiety wrapped in peer pressure wrapped in guilt I had as a kid. It sucks. My girlfriend loves scary rides and I would love to go on them with her but I just can't and I still feel guilty and self-pressured to this day to "just try it". I still feel like I am actively disappointing someone for something I feel like I can't help.

I would imagine that your daughter might feel similarly angry, guilty, pressured, etc. if she wants to do these things, just because she likes them, and you either forbid her or she knows she is making you Really Unhappy by doing it.
posted by nakedmolerats at 10:39 AM on August 2, 2012

Best answer: Now they all seem to be so much more extreme and scary

But in fact they are all safer and more closely regulated. Parks are extremely safe. Canada's Wonderland has operated for over 30 years without a single attraction-related fatality. Three and a half million people attended the park last year. Your daughter and her "sounds like an 8 year old to me" behavior "issues" is not some sort of special case who is in particular peril there. This is about your personal issue with pathological anxiety. Period.

I am a father and I deal with significant anxiety, though not as serious as yours (I can force myself to go on roller coasters and so on with my 7 year old son even though I dislike fast rides and the whole thing is always a prolonged "oh sh*t moment). So I strongly relate and empathize.

In fact my child is going on a daycare field trip to an amusement park in a short time and I have elected to place no restrictions on him but to allow the staff (who have literally orders of magnitude more experience conducting children in these circumstances than I do) to use their best judgment. Which is just to say that I practice what I'm about to preach.

The problem with that "almost always" is that that almost is everywhere in this world. Almost will rule the anxiety-prone person's life if they let it, because nothing is ever quite completely safe and therefore the list of things your anxiety will sign off on as acceptable contains one item and it is nothing.

Your child may resent you someday, ha, your child will absolutely resent you because she is a child and in a few short years she will resent you crazy-style for nothing because she will be a teenager. The real fear in my book is that you will foster the development of your child's own pathological anxiety. A life lived in fear is half a life. And I fight it for myself as much as for him because I want my whole life too.

The only way I know how to deal is to keep pushing my boundaries. There's no point making yourself sick. If you're going to have a panic attack, you know, more serious treatment needs to precede the next trip to the Ferris Wheel.

But every time you let the fear dictate what you can and cannot do you tell the fear that it is right and your rationality that it is wrong which is why I keep getting into the roller coasters and going oh sh*t oh sh*t inside for a few short minutes.

You are letting your fear dictate things a lot right now. When you rationalize a basically irrational belief (my child is in danger at this amusement park because she is different from other children) you are letting the fear dictate things. Try not to rationalize your fears. Recognize them as irrational. All that stuff you did with the counselors and vetting the rides was letting the fear dictate things. I'm sorry, I understand, I really do. You better believe that there is a part of my brain right now yelling at me that I'm going to let him go to this park without a big rigamarole of preparation and warning and vetting. When you beg your husband not to call you on the cell you are letting the fear dictate things. The more you say no to the fear the more your brain will believe in its irrationality. This is the only day to day, "when it hits in the moment" technique I have that helps: deal with it, feel the fear and keep going.

I don't think it's a big deal you restricted some rides and you don't necessarily have to reopen that issue. But try to just let it happen from here on out.

You (and your husband) need to treat your anxiety as a real problem but that's a separate issue that will be years in the undertaking (and like quitting an addiction or losing weight, a thing you'll have to maintain life long). You had a panic attack on a ferris wheel and that's not normal. Personally I think regular GPs are pretty useless at addressing anxiety. A benzo is not a cure, it's a bandaid, and a problematic one (I have NO PROBLEM with a person taking ativan or whatever to stop a panic attack or to prevent one in a situation they know is going to be a problem, let me be clear. But it isn't an overall solution).
posted by nanojath at 10:46 AM on August 2, 2012 [10 favorites]

When I was a kid I loved swingsets. I would swing and swing all day long, and I also did that that thing of swinging really high then jumping off into the sand. So fun! Now, in my thirties, not so much. I'm not scared, but it doesn't feel good. I get nauseous and the slight thrill doesn't register as fun in my brain. So my one data point suggests that it's not terribly abnormal to go from loving something as a child to not enjoying it so much as an adult.

Once I became a mother, my risk tolerance plummeted, and I definitely worry more. Likely also very normal, I suspect the other parents on MeFi would say the same thing. You want your kids to survive, you want to survive to see your kids grow.

That said, the level of fear and anxiety you describe strikes me as very far outside the norm, and it seems like it's negatively impacting your and your daughter's lives. The amount of discussion and anguish over a camp trip to an amusement park seems over-the-top. Please don't put your own issues on your daughter. You definitely should seek counseling/therapy.

Remind her to wear sunscreen and drink enough water, and tell her to have fun. That's really all she needs to hear from you about this.
posted by stowaway at 10:51 AM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do I really need to get therapy so my kid can enjoy thrill rides without me harshing her mellow?

Yes, you definitely need professional help.
posted by Perplexity at 10:52 AM on August 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

My questions are: When did "fun" like this become "fear" for you? Is this anywhere near a normal feeling for parents?

I coach kids sports and that's definitely not normal. I might refuse to coach your kid, in fact, because you sound like the kind of parent who's going to call me at home at 11pm to obsess or who will freak out and sue over a broken finger or bumped head.

I'm not saying that to be mean, bit parents like you make me nervous. You're nor operating on a rational level when it comes to assessing risk and I'd almost consider a consent form you signed invalid due to mental stress or something. And I HATE rollercoasters!
posted by fshgrl at 11:33 AM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do I really need to get therapy so my kid can enjoy thrill rides without me harshing her mellow?

Hi! You are my mom! (Kind of). Please do go get the therapy.

My mom was pretty anxious and overprotective, too. And it definitely had an impact on me over time, both by limiting the experiences I was able to choose by growing up, and also by demonstrating by example a level of fear that eventually I internalized as my own fear, which has been an enormous obstacle in doing many of the things I really want to do and preventing me from taking advantage of some once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. I don't blame her as I understand her motivations, and understand my life is my own and I have to challenge myself, and I've worked on it, but if there's any way you can work beyond it now, please DO. There are enough obstacles in the world for your daughter without her knowing of your fear and thinking it logical that she should have fear, too. And if she has an adventurous spirit, by God let her indulge it.

This is about you, not her, and not even about rides. It seems like it's about rides now, but in my life, it was about rides, but then it was about attending summer camp overnight, or it was about 20-mile bike rides, or going to the (lifeguarded!) beach without an adult, or going on a hiking trip, or going on a sailing trip, or rock climbing, or dating, or going to college a few states away, or traveling alone in cities, or walking at night after dark.

Do you want a fearful child? Probably not. Probably, you want a confident, capable, experienced child who can handle herself calmly in the midst of life's challenges. Do whatever it is you need to do to prevent your issues overflowing, so you can raise a child like that.
posted by Miko at 11:46 AM on August 2, 2012 [21 favorites]

Yep, you're my mom too, except you're more self-aware. (And my mom managed to ride to the top of the Zugspitze--highest mountain in Germany--in a cable car before I was born. Now she has panic attacks just riding over the Commodore Barry Bridge. Sigh.) I think it started when her father had a heart attack while she and my father were en route to their new house in New York, and made worse by his subsequent death and her mother's when I was about three. She has never recovered from the loss, I don't think.

As a result of her anxiety, I have had a lot of the same experiences as Miko (or, rather, like her, have NOT had them). I think it frustrates my husband more than a bit, because I am often overwhelmed by terror at inopportune moments, imagining all kinds of possible worst-case scenarios, and it has ended up ruling out a lot of potential adventures and new experiences that we could have enjoyed together. He's been patient and supportive, however, and I've done a great many things in the twenty years we've been married that I never thought I would be able to do.

Although I don't have children of my own, I think I understand something of your anxiety--I often agonize over my husband's work trips overseas because he is everything to me and I'm afraid of losing him, and I can only imagine that if I had a child it would seem ten times worse.

But I'm getting better. I used to obsessively track his flights and go into freakout mode if something weird happened, like a sudden loss of altitude or a flight website that suddenly flashed on the ominous message: "Call the airline for more information." (That last case was apparently a scheduled fuel stop--the AA customer representative who took my frantic call very kindly explained it and put me at ease.) Now I only check his flights to see if he'll be late. I don't know if I could handle the solo backpacking trips he wants to take, however, even though he's an experienced backcountryman. Still working on that one.

Right now, however, I'm most concerned about my mother. I think she could use some anti-anxiety medication at the very least--getting her into therapy would be ideal but just impossible to imagine at this point. The sad thing, however, is that I have to be the one to visit her, always--she took Amtrak out to visit us once and it was such a huge effort that she doesn't think she'll ever manage it again. I think the stress and fear and anxiety are taking a toll on her and shortening her life, and, of course, they've been decreasing her ability to enjoy it all along. And I really, really want her to be around and to enjoy being around for a long time.

Please get help, if not for your own sake, then for your daughter's. It will improve your life vastly and strengthen your relationships with people who love you. You will feel better physically and mentally.
posted by tully_monster at 12:27 PM on August 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

Please let her go on the rides.

I used to LOVE rollercoasters. I didn't get the chance to go on them often because my family was more of an "educational vacation" family, but whenever I had the chance to go with a class or a friend's family, I was all over it. And would ride everything ten times in a row.

But I'm older now and know that I have a significant medical issue that makes wild neck movements too much dangerous. Going on a rollecoaster (even one that's working perfectly and is completely safe) is too much of an actual, palpable risk to me, and it makes me so sad.

I wish that I had been able to ride more fun rides when I was younger and didn't have the issues I do now, when I was blissfully ignorant of the (real, not phobia-induced) medical risk to me. I would have been able to store away even more good memories of the fun stuff. Let her do the (completely safe) things she enjoys when she's able to enjoy them.
posted by phunniemee at 12:51 PM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

I just went through a similar thing with my son. I'm not a good swimmer - not really that comfortable in the water. I can see my 12 year old son plateauing right where I am in his swimming development. I don't want that for him. I want him to have fun horsing around in the water, getting pushed off floating docks, and doing flips off diving boards. So when he was invited to his friend's cottage for the first time recently, all I said to the dad was "He doesn't swim like someone who goes to the cottage every weekend." The dad nodded and said "Okay, gotcha" and outlined the rules they had in place for that ability level. Well, my son came back over the moon with stories of wake-boarding, and tubing, getting tossed around in the waves when they got knocked over. He loved it! And his confidence in the water quadrupled! And all I could think of was "Thank god I wasn't there." I wouldn't have kiboshed anything because he had his lifejacket on for all of this, but I would not have been able to watch. Don't let your fears hold your daughter back, but also don't let your fears hold you back from enjoying your daughter's joy in living a full life.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 1:03 PM on August 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

You seem to partly rationalize your fears by blaming your daughter for perceived shortcomings: you don't trust her on the rides because she has ADHD, or she's irresponsible, or not mindful. Do you tell her that part of the reason why you don't want her to ride scary rides is because she has these 'problems'?

I hope you don't, because I would think that would be pretty painful for your daughter to hear. As mentioned above, children of varying maturity levels and hyperactivity levels go on scary rides every day - I'm sure some of her camp mates have ADD/ADHD or other behavioral issues and will go on the rides. I don't want your daughter to end up thinking "what's wrong with me that my mother doesn't trust me? What's wrong with me that she doesn't think I'm good enough to go on the rides?"

Perhaps I'm being dramatic, but my parents behaved similarly when I was a child, and that was definitely where my mind went.

Please don't make her feel like your anxieties are the result of her being defective in some way, when they are totally your own issue (and, would you really be much less nervous if your daughter had a more compliant personality?). Do get yourself in therapy, for yourself and your daughter.
posted by imalaowai at 1:34 PM on August 2, 2012 [7 favorites]

You seem to be walking both sides, here, but for the most part, you seem to have a problem taking ownership of the fact that this is your problem to deal with, and you're trying to foist of part of your own issues onto your daughter and amusement park operators.

(Bonus question: When did scaring yourself silly on purpose become "fun" entertainment that people actually pay, and pay a decent amount of money, for?)

Really, this is not your concern. I don't particularly like most horror movies, but I don't go around exclaiming, "when did watching a scary movie on purpose become something that people pay lots of money for!?!?"

A recurring theme in your question is that you feel unfairly burdened by the fact that your daughter wants to do normal kid stuff that makes you upset, and you're coming up with a slew of rationalizations for why you shouldn't allow her to do it, not for her own good, but because of your own anxiety issues that you don't want to take responsibility for.

Your child is the normal one, with normal social and entertainment expectations. You are the one with the unusual issues and anxieties. That puts the burden on you to grapple with them in a dignified, adult manner.
posted by deanc at 2:00 PM on August 2, 2012

Another daughter of an anxious, fearful, overprotective mother here. My mother lost her father in an accident when she was 11, and I think that totally colored her perspective on safety and risk for the rest of her life. Which in turn, bled over into mine. My brother and I got picked up by the school bus right in front of our house, and until we graduated high school, my mother would watch at the window until we got picked up, because she couldn't handle the rest of the day if she didn't actually SEE us get on the bus - and she told us that. She told us all the time that she worried that when we left the house, it might be the last time she saw us. Hell, when I was freaking 30 years old, she flipped out in a panic that I was going on a trip by myself to San Francisco, to be in such a big, scary city all by myself. When I pointed out that I live in New York City, she said, "but I worry about you every single day!!"

Sorry, I think I am venting a bit, but it's for a reason. My mother's anxiety became my job to manage as a child - it was so painful to see her so worried for my safety and well-being, it never even occurred to me to do anything, at all, that might make her nervous. Which was just about everything. I still struggle to have any sense at all of accurate risk assessment, when everything feels dangerous. Or in the past, I would rebel, and do things that really were far riskier than reasonable, because I was so mis-calibrated. I am almost 40 and while I am very happy with my life now, I spent decades living a small, constrained, fearful life that I really regret.

The thing too, is that my mother would have said a lot of the same things about me that you've said about your daughter - that I was spacey and not attentive enough and that it was for my own good and safety to keep me from activities. But it also meant that I never learned the skills necessary to handle things on my own - when I went away to college I totally fell apart because I had no experience at all in managing challenges or taking risks or trying things out.

I do hope that you don't feel attacked or defensive about all these stories - I know that part of me really responded in that I would hate to see any kid have to grow up the way I did. But you're obviously not happy yourself. You may not even realize it is possible to live without the level of anxiety you have. I would really recommend therapy not just so your daughter doesn't wind up unduly influenced, but so you can enjoy your life free of worry and anxiety too.
posted by Neely O'Hara at 2:15 PM on August 2, 2012 [5 favorites]

Don't you think when your daughter shakes the ferris wheel car and throws her hands in the air that she's trying to push your buttons a little bit? Sometimes, when kids are left to their own devices, they actually exercise decent judgement. And, of course, throwing your hands in the air on a roller coaster is what people DO.

I think you should have a short, frank conversation with her about safety and ALSO about how it's mean to scare other people in those situations. Like, if she has a friend who is scared in the ferris wheel (or her dear Mom!) that it's mean to try to scare them more.

Then you have to let her exercise her best judgement. And then check out this sweet video of a Dad HATING being on a ride with his daughter... and then volunteering to go again!
posted by amanda at 2:42 PM on August 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

I also grew up under anxious, fearful and overprotective parents. It can be a slippery slope, this fear for your child's physical safety. It certainly was for my parents, and at 29 years old I'm still getting over the resentment I felt throughout my childhood and adolescence- resentment toward my parents for depriving me of important opportunities to build my confidence and experience growth, for putting me at a huge social disadvantage with my peers, and for tainting what should have been happy memories with feelings of tremendous guilt because I "made" them worry about me.

I mean, this phobia/paranoia you have now, where do you see it heading in the future? Rollercoasters barely register on the scale of things that are likely to bring your child harm. I would urge you to seek professional help now, before your anxiety finds ever more dangers to fixate on. As your daughter grows up and starts venturing forth, further and further out into the big bad world, rollercoasters are going to be the least of your concerns. I can't state this emphatically enough - your irrational fears will eventually erode your daughter's trust in you. One day the danger might be real and present, and your daughter will need a calm, rational, and objective adult she can depend on for advice, not a hysterical fear-mongerer whose judgment can't be trusted.

My parents were so crazy out of touch with reality that I had no respect for their opinions regarding what was best for me. Their response to that was to get more and more shrill and crazy, which made me trust them less and less, and round and round it went. You don't want that kind of relationship with your daughter, and believe me, she doesn't want that kind of relationship with you. Get this under control before any permanent damage is done to the relationship.
posted by keep it under cover at 3:16 PM on August 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Hey, peagood, I wanted to add that while I know people want to help you, this is clearly a really baggage-laden issue for a lot of folks. It sounds from your post that you guys have tried to overcome your anxieties and preferences for your daughter, and that it's only recently that you've become aware her wants are outpacing your abilities to do that.

I do think you are really brave to ask this question and really brave to seek confirmation that this is something bigger than you can currently cope with. I think you should be really proud of yourself for not falling into the trap so many other people's mothers demonstrated with the above stories. Good for you.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:20 PM on August 2, 2012 [18 favorites]

A lot of the stories here reflect my experience growing up with an anxious parent, too. I missed out on a lot of normal and fun experiences I should have had, suffered socially, learned to manage his anxiety over pedestrian risks by shutting him out of my life, came to lose trust in him as soon as I got into school and such and realized how far out there he was, and grew up into an anxious adult--even though I was scornful of the paranoia he espoused, I felt out of control with my fears during some months of acute anxiety and spent the rest of my adulthood so far doing the laborious rationalizing that you display here.

Recently, I told my dad of my plans to visit a developing country (having waiting some time after I knew), listing every safety precaution taken, all the emergency numbers, itinerary, etc. to an extent that I was embarrassed to CC my advisor on the email when requested. He reacted with a scathing attack on my desire to go and my risk-assessment abilities. I haven't forgiven him for quite yet. Anyway, after the exchange that took place there, where I tried my hardest to show how level-headed, kind, cautious, and curious about the world I am, and he heard none of it, it finally dawned on me that my dad's anxiety led to his having very little idea who I actually am, and my path of least resistance response to that upbringing meant that this was the first time I even tried to let him know outside of the usual safe areas.

Sometime after all that, I finally stopped listening to the anxiety that told me not to try medication and got an antidepressant and cognitive behavioral therapy that changed my entire life. I realize now how transparently anxious all my rationalizing sounded, how long I suffered unnecessarily, and how many lies anxiety told me about myself (about things like whether I'd be any good at raising children, for instance). I pity myself back then, and I pity my dad, too. Based on my experience and what I've learned in the course of seeking treatment, all of your questions are ancillary to the one, "Do I really need to get therapy?"

I can recommend measuring all risks next to the actually risky but normal activity of riding in cars, having ridden that trick into the ground as a reality-based antidote to my fears, but professional treatment was like 10 times as effective. I strongly recommend you consider a daily medication (ideally, see a psychiatrist instead of a GP, but don't let details stand in between you and some help). If you can afford therapy, that might also be beneficial. If you really can't afford it, there are lots of good books recommended in AskMeFi. If you find that treatment doesn't make anything better after a while and it turns out you in fact do have dozens of questions about rollercoasters and whatnot to answer instead of just one, go ahead and quit it, but please consider giving it a try.

In the meantime, tell your daughter to have a great time with her friends (and sure, to follow the park rules), and have a lovely idle chat with one of yours to help take your mind off things.
posted by zizania at 5:40 PM on August 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

As to when thrill rides became popular, the 1890s is the best answer. The first Ferris wheel was built for the 1893 Columbian Exposition, though it was preceded by smaller wooden wheel rides. Roller coasters became popular around the same time, though they too were preceded by "Russian mountains" and similar one-way gravity railways.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:35 PM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

My parents were not particularly overprotective, but I had a number of friends who were unreasonably prohibited from many fun things.

Our coping strategy was not to obey those boundaries. Our coping strategy was to be stealthy about violating them.
posted by Sauce Trough at 8:44 PM on August 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Please do seek help for this sounds-like-a-phobia that's increasingly troubling you — not only for how it may affect your daughter, but because it sounds like it's already having seriously negative effects for you! Some of us aren't thrill-seekers and don't enjoy adrenaline rushes much (hi there!) but not being able to deal with open staircases and bridges without distress sounds really uncomfortable. Not to mention inconvenient.

I recommend Cheri Huber's books a lot because they've been so helpful for me (I truly believe I would have attempted suicide by now if I hadn't come across her book The Depression Book some years ago), and I wonder if The Fear Book: Facing Fear Once and for All might be helpful for you. From the description:
Rather than explaining typical strategies for overcoming fear, this book focuses on examining how fear is experience, how to recognize that experience as nothing more than conditioned reaction to circumstance, and how to mentor oneself into letting go of beliefs about "appropriate" responses to fear. The notion is debunked that fear is anything other than a label we have learned to put on a set of physical and emotional responses, which is a Buddhist view of emotion in general.
Best wishes. And to echo what others have expressed, I think you should give yourself a hug for being so self-aware as to recognize that this is an issue and look into how to address it.
posted by Lexica at 9:25 PM on August 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I keep coming back to this question. I want to nth therapy, because this is certainly impacting your quality of life.

I used to be crazy anxious about this sort of thing but am now much less so and actively enjoy roller coasters. I don't enjoy being scared and things that scare me are still really upsetting, but roller coasters are just no longer scary to me... I genuinely no longer feel like something bad is actually going to happen. Now roller coasters are just exciting. I actually attribute some of this change to the super modern "high thrill" coasters because the design has improved significantly. Recent coasters don't jerk you from side to side or whiplash you from front to back, they don't give you a headache. The harnesses fit better, snug without having hard or uncomfortable edges, you don't get any bruises. The lift chains are smoother and quicker, not creak-creak-creak up the first hill for ten minutes. Basically, a recent coaster is a very controlled experience, in spite of the higher hills and faster speeds. (You still won't get me on a ferris wheel, for example, because spending a long time just sitting at heights still bothers me and also the unpredictable way in which the car rocks drives me crazy.) (I also still have some problems with normally unsafe things, so I recommend not thinking about how unsafe cars are compared to roller coasters.)

The other thing is, it sounds like you have some deeply ingrained rule follower tendencies. Don't put your hands up, read all of the rules first and follow them exactly. I'm definitely this way, too, and it's very limiting. I have trouble adapting when the rules change (but that was THE RULE, you can't just change it!), I have problems when people around me don't follow the rules (even rules which even I can tell are honestly more guidelines/it's perfectly safe but we don't want to get sued in case your hands reach five feet higher than a normal person's), and I have a world of issues when I internalize something as a rule which really isn't (things like, oh, guidelines for how to write or paint... I'm horrible at thinking outside the box). I don't have suggestions for how to get around this, but it's something to think about and maybe bring up with someone else/your therapist.
posted by anaelith at 6:04 AM on August 7, 2012

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