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

Warnings, Waivers & Wild Worries! Like the Pre-K That Keeps Kids’ Photos in a “Secure Location”

Hi Folks! I’m trying to gather examples of warnings, waivers and official worires that annoy, amuse or outrage you, especially regarding your kids. For instance, over in England  schools are forbidding parents from taking pictures at plays. One sports program requires shutter-happy parents to wear a special ARM BAND if they’re going to snap pix. In this amazing article, Josie Appleton, head of The Manifesto Club, writes that the “Robin Hood primary and nursery school in Nottinghamshire says its photographs are stored in a ‘secure location’ for not more than four years, after which they are ‘privately destroyed.'” Like government secrets!

I’m speaking at a conference about this kind of stuff in November and I’ve got a lot of wonderful examples from you already. But if you’ve got any more — let’s hear! L.   (who can’t quite figure out why, at the end of this video, you go right into my next-to-latest video…but so be it) 

(Australian) Outrage of the Day: Girl Sues Classmate Whose Tennis Ball Hit Her

Hi Readers! Greetings from Bendigo, Australia where I’m here to keynote this conference. (Gorgeous city!) Anyway, apparently I arrived just in the nick of time. Two girls over here were playing tennis at a private school recently when the ball hit and bruised one girl’s eye. Anything having to do with eyes is scary and distressing, but in a move worthy of the best of America’s ambulance chasers, the bruised-eye-girl’s family immediately sued the ball-lobber, and the tennis school, and the college where the incident occurred. According to this report in The Courier Mail:

The claim says the tennis school failed to provide adequate supervision or protective eyewear…

So from now on, should we no longer assume that everyone understands the basic idea that a ball, once set in motion, can hit a person? At the same time, should we start insisting on protective eyewear every time a moving ball is invovled? Goggles?, I guess?

As the daughter of a man who started and ran a tennis club till he died (Max Skenazy, Northbrook Racquet Club in Illinois!) , I’m hoping this suit will be tossed out of both courts — both tennis and legal. – L

Wow, Who Knew? Kids Should Go Down Slides ON THEIR OWN!

Hi Readers — and thank you for sending this story, “A Surprising Risk for Toddlers on Playground Slides,” that was in yesterday’s New York Times. And what exactly IS the surprising risk?

Parents! Extremely loving, extremely cautious parents who, rather than letting their kids navigate the slide on their own, put them on their lap and let gravity do its thing. The problem is: The thing gravity is doing is breaking their childrens’ legs.

Yes, “helping” the kids actually makes the slide experience less safe. Kids are getting their legs stuck and twisted and even broken, because (sez the story) “If a foot gets caught while the child is sliding alone, he can just stop moving or twist around until it comes free. But when a child is sitting in an adult lap, the force of the adult’s weight behind him ends up breaking his leg.”

Now, I am of at least two, possibly even three-point-five minds about this story. First off, of course, I am a little smug about the news that helicoptering doesn’t help kids. The fact that kids have been going down slides alone since Danny slid down his Dinosaur should have been evidence enough that modest inclines and moppets are a good mix.  But we live in a culture that loves to demand ever more involvement on the part of parents, so a lot of folks got the idea that GOOD moms and dads are the ones who put down the Starbucks and go, “Wheeeee!” with perhaps more enthusiasm than they feel. Now they are off the hook.

ON THE OTHER HAND (we are now onto Mind #2), this article also makes it seem as if the parent/kid playground combo is the slippery slope to hell, and that slides are even MORE dangerous than anybody had ever imagined. And considering we have already imagined them as SO dangerous that regulations require them to be no taller than the average mound of laundry (or is that just at my house?), this is another blow to playground fun.

And here’s Mind #3: The fact that this issue merited an entire article in the hard copy of the New York Times — space that is disappearing faster than Happy Meal fries  — is just another example of our obsession with every little thing that has to do with parenting. As if  every hour of time with them is fraught with the potential for developmental leaps or horrifying danger. When really what we’re talking about is an afternoon at the playground.

And now for the .5: One point the article made is that, “The damage is not merely physical. ‘The parents are always crushed that they broke their kid’s leg and are baffled as to why nobody ever told them this could happen,’ Dr. Holt said. ‘Sometimes one parent is angry at the other parent because that parent caused the child’s fracture. It has some real consequences to families.'”

In a nutshell (and I do mean nut) here are my final thoughts:

1 – Parents are BAFFLED that NOBODY EVER TOLD THEM every single thing that could possibly go wrong in any situation?  That’s one reason why we are so litigious: We expect every activity to be perfect every time, and if it’s not, we are so angry we want to blame someone (else). Not fate. Someone.

2 – While I can totally see being mad at the parent who broke my kid’s leg, I can also see moving on. Getting over it. Realizing it could have been ME. Lasting consequences seems a bit dramatic for an injury that, the article says, the children recover from in 4 to 6 weeks, without “lasting complications.” (Except, of course, for the divorce.)

3 – And, in defense of the article and the author, whose work I like, maybe the piece actually did perform a public service. Hoopla aside, now you know: Let your kid go solo down the slide.

I think I’m done. Feel free to take up where I left off. — L.

Okay, maybe this slide IS a little dicey, with or without a parent.

H.S. Coach Fired for Leaving 2 Misbehaving Seniors Behind (And an Update)

Hi Folks! News moves so fast. Here’s a story I was going to post tomorrow, but here it is today — complete with an update that just came in! 

Ricky Sargent, a football and track coach in Hempstead, Texas, was fired last week for leaving two seniors behind at a restaurant for about an hour, at night, after they misbehaved and refused to get back on the team bus.

The young men were acting up on their way back from a meet, and as a punishment they were told they wouldn’t be allowed off the bus to eat. But eventually they DID get off — and then refused to get back on. The adult or adults with the team at the time called Coach Sargent, who okayed the decision to leave the troublemakers behind, saying he’d come by to sit with them himself until their parents came to pick them up.

Which he did.

And for which he was fired.

Now, clearly, this was a breach of conduct on the coach’s part. But it certainly sounds like it was also a breach on the part of the young men who, as seniors, I can’t bring myself to call “kids.” If they are 17, they’re old enough to drive.  If they are 18, they are old enough to go to war. But they’re not old enough to wait for an hour at a restaurant for their parents to come pick them up?

I fear that the reason the coach was fired was not just that his behavior was legally dicey, but that as a culture we believe that anytime minors are not directly supervised by adults, they are in mortal peril. But they’re not. And in this case, the students were at a restaurant, with a coach quickly by their side, and parents headed over to get them.

We’ve bemoaned the death of common sense here before. This is the death of a couple of other things, too. It’s the death of any faith that our kids can be safe on their own. It’s also the death of a certain kind of faith in our kids — faith that they can roll with some punches, and even learn from cold water splashed in their face.  I’m not one for an eye for an eye, but letting young people experience real consequences for their behavior — even slightly improvised, imperfect consequences — does not strike me as evil. It strikes me as wanting our kids to do better, and believing that they can.

What will the young men learn from this experience? Maybe it’s that they can get away with their antics. Maybe it’s that they were injured and aggrieved. But just maybe it will be that they’ve lost a coach who did nothing worse than think that, when forced to handle themselves in an unfamiliar situation, they’d rise to the occasion.

That’s the kind of coach I’d want for my kids. – L.

BUT BUT BUT! — Here’s an update! And I don’t want to spoil the suprise but: Woot!

Is there any way two high school students can survive for an hour on their own at a restaurant?

Just Following Orders…At an Afterschool Program

Hi Readers: The letter below brings things full circle for me. While I have been interested in the way we underestimate kids and overestimate danger for a while now, I have been interested for even LONGER in the way decent people become trained not to use their brains or hearts. Eventually they come to think this is the RIGHT way to act. I think it is WRONG WRONG WRONG. And also: WRONG.- L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: Today I was at baseball practice with my older sons when my 3-year old said, “I gotta poop!!!” I could tell by the look on his face that it could not wait.  Although the fields are at a school, it was after hours and the restrooms were locked.

We went to the YMCA after-care, located on the school grounds, and asked to use the restroom.  By this time, there were no school kids in the room, just two employees. They looked at me apologetically, but said it was against policy to let a stranger use the facility.  At this point, my son wailed again, “I’m going to poop!”.  The employee went to ask her boss.  The boss returned and apologetically said it was again the rules and that her “hands are tied.”

I then realized that this daycare provider used to work at my son’s school!  I reminded her that she actually knew us.  I told her that my son might actually poop on her steps.  She then replied that if her supervisor found out she let him in, she would get fired.  After all, “What would happen if he slipped and fell in the bathroom? You could sue us,”she said.

I actually feel for the employee.  I do believe that she was following orders. But really, couldn’t a little flexibility have been possible in this case?

And yet…I have another modern day story. Our sons attend a wonderful school that literally is on the other side of the fence from our house.They open the back gate and are on campus. On weekends, they go down by themselves and play in the fields. The after-care program at the school is at the far end of the school, so it is approximately a five minute walk from our back fence.

I am frequently in a hurry, and I don’t want to drag my 3-year-old to the program to pick up his brothers.  I’ve asked if I can call the school and have my boys sent home.  I’ve been told that it is a liability to let my kids walk home by themselves, and that I must sign-in and out everyday.  I even offered to sign a release of liability, but my request was denied.

I understand organizations being afraid of lawsuits. However, I really respect most childcare providers. I would love it if the people caring for my children had the freedom to make exceptions once in a while. — Frustrated Mom

Lenore here: I’m a frustrated mom — and human — too. These rules are just like Zero Tolerance laws. We refuse to let people make sensible, case-by-case decisions because we don’t trust them, we don’t trust the world and we don’t trust each other (not to sue). In the end, we are crippled by the stupidity and cruelty this distrust engenders.

Halt! What toddler goes there?