Guest Post: The Bucky Balls Ban

Hi Readers! The Buckyballs ban is getting a lot of press. Here’s a piece in today’s NY Times, which references this oped by Michelle Malkin, And here is the official Consumer Product Safety Commission’s complaint. It notes that since 2009, there have been two dozen reports of magnet-induced injuries to children, including “at least one dozen involving Buckyballs. Surgery was required in many of incidents.” (It doesn’t say how many.)

In press coverage of the issue, generally someone whose child was hurt gets interviewed. Here’s a reader whose child was affected another way.  – L

Dear Free-Range Kids: Did you see the news about BuckyBalls being banned? BuckyBalls are little metal balls that look like bb pellets, only they’re magnets. It’s a desktop “toy” meant for adults… which it clearly states on the packaging, the website, their twitter feed… I heard a rumor that the company CEO has it tattooed across his forehead. http://www.wired.com/geekmom/2012/07/buckyballs-banned/

So why does the goverment want them banned? Well, in the past 4 years, and after MILLIONS of sales of these little magnetic balls of joy, 20 kids managed to swallow the magnets, which is a dangerous thing to do. The balls are magnetic and can wreak havoc on a digestive system, especially if they were unfortunate enough to swallow more than one.

This is a bad thing, but I’d like to point out, AGAIN, that it states on the packaging that it is definitely, totally, and 100% not meant for little kids. They even went so far as to give it an age cut off at 13 and up! THIRTEEN! These are magnets! The size of bb’s! I personally find it a little overboard. I mean, hopefully by the time the kid is 12, his parents have broken him of the habit of sticking strange metal objects into his mouth.

So why is the government suing the company that makes BuckyBalls? I mean it’s a U.S. based company that employs lots of people, you’d think that shutting them down would not be in our best interest. But no, the government’s complaint is that the 13+ age limit is not enough. They insist that the the packaging should read 14+. Because, you know, there’s a huge difference between 13 and 14, I guess. [Lenore interjects: I actually think they want them to not be sold to anyone of any age.] And also the government believes that 13 year olds are idiots and can’t be trusted around shiny things.

Disclaimer: I have several packages of these BuckyBalls. AND I have a 13 year old. We bought the BuckyBalls for my husband as a neat thing to fiddle with on his desk at work. But my son was fascinated with them from the get-go. Of course we reminded him that shiny things are not necessarily edible things (for which he stared at us like we had grown two extra heads. I mean, DUH, guys. Parents are so weird.) We also stressed the importance of being careful not to lose the balls as we do have pets, and although neither my dog nor my cats have ever tried to swallow anything that wasn’t made of fish and/ or whatever is in those brown kibble things doggies eat, I didn’t want to take the chance as none of my pets have learned English yet and I was unable to give them the shiny-things-are-not-food talk. Well, I mean, I did give them the talk, but I don’t know if it really sunk in. They just kind of looked at me. Then my cat started to lick herself and my dog got distracted by the squirrels in our front yard.

As I was saying. My 13-year-old son became fascinated with the BuckyBalls and was allowed to play with them in my husband’s office. We noticed that he was going in there to play with them almost daily, making all kinds of intricate shapes with them, picking up paperclips with them, modeling things… all that jazz. We ended up purchasing a larger set of magnets and he’s been constructing and experimenting with them as well. (These new magnets are the size of marbles, and although they’re still not a good thing to swallow, the package for these magnets says they are only made for children over the age of 3. I have no idea why there’s a difference, except that perhaps the BuckyBall magnets are stronger.)

And Caleb’s fascination with magnets hasn’t ended there. It sparked an interest in geology in general, which has recently morphed into an interest in archeology. This week he’s hanging out with his grandfather at the beach where Caleb is taking his new metal detector out for a spin! (A metal detector with an electro-magnetic coil in the head, he tells me. MAGNETS. They are AWESOME, Mom.)

So you might understand why I’d be so baffled about the government deciding that BuckyBalls, or any small magnet, I assume, was too dangerous for kids to experiment with. I thought you might be interested to know about this development as well. I remember that a few years ago you talked about the Kinder Surprise chocolate eggs that Canadian children get to partake in, but U.S. children can only read about online. I have a feeling that if the government has its way, BuckyBalls will go the way of the Kinder Egg. Sorry this was so long! Cheers, Julie

Kids & Kittens & Keeping Them Inside

Readers — This is such a fantastic example of the way our society is going: Better not to experience ANYTHING than to be exposed to a single ounce of RISK. It comes to us from Julie Saxon, a university lecturer turned stay-at-mom of two in San Jose, CA. –  L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: Just wanted to share this story that happened yesterday. My family has decided it’s time to adopt a pet, and we’d like a cat or kitten.  My husband and I both grew up with cats in the household and we both had indoor/outdoor cats. I know there’s a lot of controversy about what’s best, but we both believe that it is better for the cat’s well-being to allowed outside sometimes.  (Plus no litter box is awesome!)

So we set out to a local pet store yesterday that was holding an adoption fair. It was being put on by a local cat rescue that had very specific requirements of the homes in which the cats are to be placed, and one — written into a contract — is that the kitten will be kept indoors only. So, obviously, this wasn’t the rescue for us. But what was really interesting was the rhetoric the volunteer used in trying to convince us that cats are better as indoor only. It mirrored almost exactly what the media is telling us about children!  Some of the things she told me:

* We all used to have outdoor cats when we were kids. Everyone did. But things are different now.
* The cats’ biggest problem is PREDATORS. We think it’s cars, but it’s not. It’s predators. She then began to speak about COYOTES, despite the fact that I live in the suburbs of a fairly big city and have never–NOT ONCE in the 16 years I’ve lived here–seen a coyote. Off-leash dogs, yes. Raccoons and possums, yes. Coyotes, not so much.
* Kittens should never be outside, and these in particular because they’ve never been outside. They don’t know how to be outside. (As if I’m going to toss the kitten in the front yard and let it fend for itself.)
*Indoor only cats live longer.
*Besides, they don’t know what they’re missing.

Whether you believe the same way as this volunteer regarding cats and kittens isn’t my point. But I was shocked at how closely animal rescue folks mimic helicopter parents or possibly vice versa. Have we reduced our children to the state of 4-month-old bottle-fed baby kittens? We have to keep them inside because they’ve never been outside and they would instantly become prey to wild predators? Training them isn’t even considered? Besides, depriving them of what comes naturally is fine because they will live longer and they don’t know any different anyway? Wow! –  Julie

Who needs nature? We’re learning our numbers!

Is Your Child Safe ENOUGH? Take This Summer Safety Quiz!

Hi Folks — Now for something completely different. This piece of mine recently ran in the Washington Post.  Enjoy!  – L.

Tips for Keeping Your Child Safe. Very, Very Safe 

It’s summertime, which means it’s time for parents to think about safety — only safety. That’s what all the parenting magazines and Web sites will tell you, as will every TV news report that begins, “It was a beautiful summer day until . . . ”As a result, you know how important it is for your children to avoid all swimming pools, playgrounds, lakes, camps, parks, bugs, balls, hoses, horses, exercise, soap bubbles, sunbeams, sand, sugar and, of course, other children.

If you are still considering allowing your child to play outdoors this summer, go right ahead, you risk junkie! But first, heed these tips. Some were gleaned from reliable sources, others I might have made up. It makes sense to take some precautions, but can you tell the difference?
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1. Limit children’s sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
2 . Children should watch TV or text during peak sun hours.
3 . Discourage children from moving rapidly when they see insects — movement encourages insects to bite.
4. If an insect alights on your child’s arm or leg, remove that limb.
5. Do not let your children dive.
6 . Do not let your children lift anything heavier than a wet towel. 
7 . Touch your toddler at all times to check body temperatures.
8. Touch your child’s wrist at all times to check for a pulse.
9. Use softer-than-standard baseballs and safety release bases to reduce baseball-related injuries. 
1 0. Use charades to pantomime football plays to reduce the possibility of concussions.
11. Avoid dressing your child in bright colors or flowery prints.
12. Choose clothes that cover your child’s shoulders, arms, fingers, legs and face.
13. Sweat and body heat bring on the bugs. Bathe the kids before heading out and try to keep them calm.
14. Give your children sedatives at breakfast and as needed throughout the day.
15. Check out a camp’s play equipment for cracks and dents.
16. Check out whether your child’s day camp is located at a federal prison.
17. Make sure your children come inside after 30 minutes of play for 15 minutes of water and snacks.
18. Make sure your children remember the rule “Step on a crack, time to eat a snack.”
19. Avoid gardens where flowers are in bloom.
20. Enjoy gardens where flowers are dead.
21. Never let your child wait in the car, even for a minute.
22. Always wake your toddlers to drag them across a busy gas station, for safety’s sake.
23. Avoid sweets during picnics.
24.Serve only bran-based desserts.
25. Make sure all home swing sets have nine inches of wood chips beneath the playset.
26. Remove all swings and replace with ottomans.
27. Make sure kids do a series of warm-ups and gentle stretches to get their muscles ready for action.
28 . Do not allow your child to play tag before being assessed by a medical professional.
29 . Stay away from very cold drinks — they can cause cramps.
30. Serve Popsicles at room temperature.
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Answer Key:The odd-numbered tips come from actual parenting resources. The even numbered tips don’t . . . yet.

Tip #7: Touch your toddler at all times to check body temperatures. REAL OR NOT?

Here We Go Again — Another “Worst-First Thinking” App

Hi Folks — As I wrote to the publicist who sent me this pitch: ” How does knowing my kid is out on a field in the middle of a tornado give me ‘piece’ of mind?” Here’s what she had sent me:

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Dear Lenore: Before leaving for work this morning, you recall hearing something on the news about severe weather. You can’t seem to shake the worry as thoughts about your loved ones rush in. The worry pops into mind again as you’re walking down the hall at work. As you approach an office window, a faint yet familiar sound is audible. Mary, whose desk is nearby, comes up beside you and remarks, “a tornado watch was issued earlier, I guess now it’s a warning”. The once muffled siren is now ringing in your head. Where are Kate and Sam usually at during this time of the day? Kate has Softball every Thursday, so she should be at the school, but Sam could be on the bus or getting a ride home with friends. You attempt to walk calmly back to your desk and inform coworkers of the tornado sirens on the way.  Grabbing your phone from your top drawer, you flick on a blank screen. No messages. As you file in line with your coworkers to the basement, you launch The Safety App and request the status of those in your safety group. Seconds later you receive the current or last known addresses of Kate, Sam, and the rest of your family. In addition you receive Kate and Sam’s automatic safety status’ indicating Kate is currently at practice and Sam is at a friends house. Before you’ve even reached the stairwell you’ve got the piece of mind you need to make it through this disaster….

 I’m so glad I know that Kate is at softball practice! Whew!

No More Candy at Parade — It’s Too Dangerous

Hi Readers!  Here’s a gem of  Worst-First thinking — dreaming up the WORST case scenario FIRST and proceeding as if it’s about to happen. — L 
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Dear Free-Range Kids: I ran across this local article here in Utah last week.  They are starting to ban throwing candy to parade viewers because of the possibility that a child will run into the road and get run over by a float.  In the many years they’ve held parades in Utah, where they have about a parade a week in the summer in different communities (the one in this article is the biggest one in the state, celebrating the state’s founding), this has actually NEVER happened. But still they are banning it because of the possibility of it happening. — J. King
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Lenore here: In the link Ms. King sent, one parade official explained, “I don’t want you or I to suffer the heartbreak of a child getting run over.” Hey, I don’t want “you or I”  to suffer the heartbreak of a child dying in an eight-car pileup on the way to the parade either, so let’s just call it off. Can’t be too careful, right?  – L. 
Oh, the danger!

Science Teachers Weep! School Evacuated for “Chemical Spill”

Hi Folks! This note was posted by a high school student commenting on the story of the school that allowed two students to fry Ferrari red because they weren’t carrying a doctor’s prescription for non-prescription sunblock.   But maybe that school loses to this one, in the sticklers department. – L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: This reminds me of a ‘chemical spill’ my school had a couple months back. Keep in mind this is a high school, with around 800 14-18 year olds walking the halls.

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We were told to evacuate because of a ‘chemical spill’ in one of the science labs a bit before noon. Now, there were some actual dangerous chemicals in some of the rooms, so we evacuated without complaint. Soon, we found out what the ‘chemical spill’ was: mercury. Someone had dropped an old thermometer made of mercury, so the entire school had to be evacuated.

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We had to sit out on the football field for four hours. There were no clouds to block the sun, it was actually fairly chilly out, and about half the school hadn’t had a chance to eat lunch. No one was allowed to leave to stadium, even to grab a sweatshirt that was sitting ten feet away in their car.

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They had to test everyone who had been inside that room that day for traces of mercury. Two hours later, they all came up negative. I got a mild sunburn from that day, which I’m pretty sure was a bigger cancer risk than a bit of mercury.
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Also, since I nearly failed chemistry, I asked my homeroom teacher (who happened to be a science teacher) if the mercury was really that bad for us. He said no, mercury is usually only harmful if ingested. So my entire school was kept out on a lawn freezing our hungry butts off and getting sunburned not only for two hours of our school day, but two hours AFTER school had ended, to ensure no one was licking the mercury off the floor.

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In all, 100 kids got tested — really just their clothes and shoes — or about one eighth of the school. The school is Totino-Grace high school located in Fridley, Minnesota. Here’s a piece about it that ran on KARE 11.
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On a side note, the school did away with the glass and mercury thermometers a couple years ago, but I guess they missed a few. – A Student

WWMCD? (What Would Madame Curie Do?)