When is A Bumbo Seat Safe Enough?

Hi Folks! Just read about this warning regarding Bumbo Seats — little seats that look even safer than normal seats because there’s a big, hmmm, I guess “bumbo” in front of the crotch, wedging the child in. (See below.) About 4 million — that’s 4,000,000 — have been sold. And now they are being recalled for retooling — basically adding a safety belt — after reports of 2 baby skull fractures. (Two, that is, while the seat was on the ground. Another 19 occurred when the seat was on a raised surface and presumably the child fell out or off.)

Now, look, nobody wants a baby’s skull fractured. (Do they?) But listen to this quote in USA Today:

“Too many children were injured while using this product,” says¬†Consumer Federation of America¬†product safety director Rachel Weintraub. “The fact that the manufacturer is changing the product by including restraints is incredibly significant.”

It is INDEED significant, in that it indicates that any manufacturer can be coerced into a product recall if someone insinuates that without it, the manufacturer DOESN’T CARE ABOUT BROKEN BABY SKULLS. The specter of a lawsuit, or boycott, or just a glaring TV talk show host is enough to make any company quake in its booties.

But when something is safe 99.999% of the time (I’m sure one of you will do the actual math), is that not SAFE ENOUGH? As the reader who sent me notice of the recall said, “Why don’t we recall laps, while we’re at it?”

Well? Why DON’T we? After all, laps are non-standard, germy, and once in a while there’s a cat vying for the same space. Unsafe! Unclean! Unfair! Let us officially recommend parents come in for an emergency lap repair kit allowing a neighborhood surgeon to graft a restraining belt onto all adult tummies.

Oh — not willing to have a belt grafted on? I guess you don’t CARE about babies’ skulls. – L.

 photo

Wow does that seat look extremely unsafe.

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

N.Y. State Senate Passes Bill Outlawing Kids Under 8 Waiting in Cars

Hi Readers — My very own state — New York — just passed an overprotective, unnecessary, parental-decision-damning bill. Here’s the scoop, according to the Queens Chronicle:

In order to better ensure child safety, the state Senate unanimously passed a bill on Feb. 29 that would make it illegal for parents or guardians to leave children under the age of 8 alone in a motor vehicle. Multiple infractions would constitute a misdemeanor.

The bill applies to any person legally charged with care of a child and states that they cannot be left alone or with anyone under the age of 12, ‚Äúunder conditions which would knowingly or recklessly present a significant risk to the health or safety of the child.‚ÄĚ

.
The problem is that what I consider a “significant risk” may be quite different from what the authorities consider a “significant risk.” So even if I think my 7-year-old can wait in the car, reading a comic book, while I go in to buy stamps, someone else with a badge or gavel might consider that treacherous. After all, what if there’s a carjacking? What if the child is snatched? What if the car overheats in ten minutes and somehow my kid can’t figure out how to open the door? Or (to paraphrase some folks interviewed in the Queens Chronicle article): What if the state needs to make money and penalizing my parenting decisions is an easy way to grab it?
.
I understand the actual issue driving this particular law: Trying to save children from being forgotten in the car and left to die a horrible death by hyperthermia. But it’s not as if anyone MEANS to forget their child in the car all day. So saying, “Forget your child and you will get a ticket!” is not likely to have a bigger effect than, “Forget your child and he may DIE.”
.
As I’ve said before on this topic, the best way to keep your kids safe is to put your purse, briefcase, phone and/or wallet in the back seat next to the car seat. That way, even if somehow you WERE about to forget your sleeping infant (which is the way most of the deaths happen), now you will open the back door and see him/her there. ¬†My new motto: Make sense, not laws. — L.

Kids! Cars! Are they ever safe while waiting in one?

Bumper Car Craziness

Hi Readers! A question for you:

Q: When is a bumper car NOT a bumper car?

A: When you are no longer allowed to bump it.

Such is the case in England right now, where three amusement parks have banned bumper car bumping, and insist that patrons who climb into the cars drive them slowly and use them only for “dodging” each other.

I’m sure you can (LAWYERS LAWYERS LAWYERS) guess why. And as this Telegraph article¬†says: It is probably only a matter of time before the cars come equipped with airbags too. Or maybe a lawyer just rides alongside you. — Lenore

An amusement park (Coney Island) from back when amusing was not a crime.

“Is My Son a Sex-Offender?”

Hi Readers — Last week I was on a radio show where the host wondered how I could endorse the idea of kids playing outside, now that we KNOW we are surrounded by “sexual predators.” I replied that Sex Offender Registry is confusing because some people on it really do (or at least did) prey on children, but many of them don’t or won’t, and we can’t always tell which is which. ¬†I didn’t get a chance to say this,¬†but ¬†a study by the Georgia Sex Offender Registration Review Board — Georgia! Not a state wussy on crime — concluded that five percent of the people on its registry were “clearly dangerous.” It also determined that just over 100 of the 17,000 (1 in 170) were actual “predators” — people who feel compelled to commit sex crimes. (Read this Economist article for more info.) Here the story of one of the other 169:
.
Dear Free-Range Kids: I know in some ways this isn’t exactly Free-Range, but last Saturday night my 17-year-old son was interrupted by a Sheriff’s deputy while “parking” with a 15-year-old girl.¬† I hadn’t heard about her, but apparently they’d been bf/gf for a few weeks.
.
After I read about the cases of similar situations that resulted in the teenage boy ending up on the Sex Offender Registry, I immediately looked up the age of consent in my state,¬†Oklahoma, which is 16.¬† Then I sat down with my son and explained the possible consequences of having sex with an under-age girl.¬† But I guess it didn’t carry much weight coming from mom.
.
Now, I think the deputy handled the situation perfectly (even in a somewhat old school way):¬† he made both kids call their parents and tell them what they had been doing.¬†¬†¬†The deputy also gave them a good, strong¬†lecture that with a present-day twist: he¬†included the possibility of sex offender registration.¬† My son drove, so when the situation was over he was sent home in his vehicle, but the girl’s mother had to come pick her up.
.
I have to admit that I was initially amused by it, once my son established that¬†the phone call¬†was pretty much¬†the extent of¬†the deputy’s actions.¬† He had been doing what teenagers do, and getting interrupted by the officer seemed almost like a scene from a ’60s movie.¬† I have done my best to prepare him for a safe and healthy sexuality, not only has he had comprehensive sex-ed from myself and our church (Unitarian, so it’s¬†a different approach than many churches) about disease and pregnancy prevention, but I have also talked with him about maturity and emotional consequences for both himself and his partner.¬† I know from personal experience that teens are going to do what they’re going to do, so my approach has always been about sex being a healthy experience, physically and psychologically.¬† We’ve had open dialog since he was about 5 or 6 when he asked me, “What is sex?” ¬†My response: ¬†“Sex is¬†a special kind of hugging and kissing that grown-ups do when they really love each other a whole lot.”
.
My first question when he got home was “Were you using/about to use/have ready to use a condom?”¬† He couldn’t have said “YES!!!” faster or more emphatically.¬† My second question was, “How old is she?” He said, “Two years younger than me,” which didn’t take a lot of math to figure out that there was potential for real trouble involved.¬† When I started to remind him of our prior talk, he told me about the deputy’s warning and it was obvious just how hard it hit my son then.¬† (He event commented that he was going to check ID in the future to make sure a girl was at least 16.)¬† But I still wasn’t concerned because¬†there was every indication that the event was over and done.
.
Unfortunately, that may not be the case.
.
The young lady told my son that her mother wants to talk to me.¬† I understand that she’s upset and I said she was welcome to do so and my son sent the girl my number last night, so she could call me.¬† Her mother¬†is¬†mad — extremely so — and wants my son to be punished.¬† Harshly.¬† Possibly legally.¬† When he told me that, I started to get nervous and at that point sat down with my son and asked him exactly what happended that night — how far did they go?
.
Thankfully, due to our existing relationship on the subject, he was able to tell me honestly and clearly.  They were interrupted before they made it to intercourse, but had progressed to oral sex.
.
My son also told me that the girl and her mother have a somewhat contentious relationship and that the mother sometimes calls her daughter “slut” and “whore.” ¬†I believe that the mom is really lashing out at my¬†son out of anger, rather than honestly thinking he did something to hurt her daugher.
Now I’m concerned we should¬†contact an attorney¬†just to cover his butt for whatever may come from this.
.
Am I overreacting?¬† We barely get by as it is and have no money for legal fees.¬† And if I do need to consult an attorney, what kind?¬† Criminal/defense?¬† How do I find a good one, especially with my financial situation?¬† I’m scared for my son who was just being¬†a normal teenager. What should I do? — Scared Mom
.
Dear Scared Mom: I’m scared, too, but I have no legal background. I don’t know if it makes sense to get an attorney just in case things escalate, or possibly wait for them to die down. Thus, I am asking the readers for their advice, and I am wishing you and your son every bit of good luck and fairness. — L.

Possible sex offenders?

NEEDED: Legal Advice on Having Fun

Hi Readers — Here’s a letter I couldn’t answer. Can any of you? If so, please do! L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: Regarding, “No More Playing in the Dark, Kids.” What would be helpful to know, is how we¬† — parents, scout leaders, teachers and other carers of children — can find ways around this. ¬†For example:

*Are disclaimers needed to be signed by parents and children?

*Can leaders do spur-of-the-moment activities or must every thing be risk assessed in advance? I’m all for a little sponaneity.

The Telegraph article is sparse on the details. I’d like to know precisely why the scout leader was deemed negligent. There’s not enough info about the environment in which the game was played either.

It concerns me that these cases are still coming to court and being won. How can we turn the tide here?

Could School Have Prevented Injury…by a Paintbrush?

Hi Readers!¬†This is such a disturbing story. A Scottish boy who was 10 was painting scenery on the ground for a school play back in 2003 when one of the other painters got up, bumping into him. This caused him to fall on another student’s paintbrush, which — this is so horrible — pierced him through the eye, causing blindness in the eye and brain damage.

Now a court has ruled that the teachers at the school should have “foreseen” that such an event was, if not likely, at least POSSIBLE.¬†Wrote the judge:

When one looks at the whole circumstances of the use of the brush, a real risk of injury emerges as foreseeable. A reasonable person in the position of the teachers would have taken steps to prevent that foreseeable risk of harm…”

According to the BBC report, the judge said the painting could have been done with “safer” brushes, and at the kids’ desks, rather than on the ground.

As if the ground is so darn dangerous.

Now, obviously, what’s extremely upsetting about this is not JUST that the school has since outlawed “long” paintbrushes, and now sees painting as a dangerous activity. It’s the notion of “reasonable” foresight and how this encourages a totally paranoid way of thinking. If we are all supposed to have the foresight to prevent all freak accidents that might someday, somehow happen under the most mundane of circumstances, we would have to get rid of every item in every place any child could ever be. Because — hey — a child COULD choke on a lemon, or slip on a slipper, or impale herself on a toothbrush. Let’s ban them all now, before we’re on the line for millions, as this school might be.

What happened to the boy is a tragedy. No need to compound it. — Lenore