Thursday, February 05, 2015

Keeping Kids Safe in a Sane Way

Did you see this Nationwide commercial during the Superbowl or in many of the articles that have been written about it?
Yep. Nationwide spent $6.75 million to put this ad smack-dab in the middle of the Super Bowl.
People have compained that the ad was a downer and cast a shadow on the fun they wanted to have watching the Super Bowl. When it came on as I was watching the Super Bowl with my family, it sure did change the feeling in the room.
But here's what really really bothered me about the ad (and I can't stop thinking about it so I'm writing about it here).
Parents already worry plenty about the safety of their children. Nationwide points out that preventable accidents are the #1 cause of death in children.  Isn't every accident ultimately preventable? If we didn't drive anywhere ever, could we get into a car accident? If we didn't walk down the stairs, would we ever fall down the stairs and get hurt? If we didn't eat anything, could we ever get food poisoning? But we all deem that the benefits of driving, walking down stairs and eating vastly outweigh the risks. It scares me that our society seems to be casting aside traditional joys of childhood because they are deemed too risky.  Things that were once viewed as something as normal as driving a car, walking down stairs and eating - like walking to school with your friends or climbing a tree or swinging on swings at the park - are now considered recklessly dangerous to some. So it seems like we're on a track towards bubble-wrapped kids sitting in front of screen in their child-proofed houses, missing out on so many of the joys of childhood that I think are totally worth the relatively small risks involved. 
I think it's so important that we allow our kids to do things that are a bit of a stretch for them so that they can have fun and learn limits. I'm OK with the bumps and bruises and scrapes - and even broken bones - they might get as they do this natural experimentation and stretch their abilities. 
And as far as in-home accidents, they are so very rarely a result of real negligence of a parent or caregiver. Bad things, terrible things, just happen sometimes - even with vigilant and caring people around.
No matter how hard we try, we simply cannot stand over our children every second of their lives and ensure their safety. We can secure bookcases to walls and stay with our children when they're in the bathtub and keep dangerous chemicals and medicines out of their reach and put a gate on the stairs when our crawling babies don't understand the danger and aren't ready to learn to get up and down stairs carefully. But even with every smart and reasonable precaution, bad things can happen. 
Our kids have needed stitches on several occasions from doing things like smacking their head on the floor when slipping on a little spilled water on the floor while dancing around and running into the exercise machine which doesn't even have sharp corners. And Isaac broke his arm when he was two by falling off a low chair onto the carpet at an odd angle. Were these accidents preventable? Sure. Isn't everything preventable if you could somehow think of every possible contingency and hold your child in your lap every moment of every day? Usually accidents happen in ways that we really couldn't have imagined (so there goes thinking of every coningency) and there is no reasonable way to keep our children safely in our arms all the time (they'd go crazy and so would we!).
I know of several very good parents who've had their toddlers somehow find and eat medications or cleaning fluids or stuff from an older child's chemistry set and have had to call poison control, sometimes finding it was OK and not to worry, and sometimes finding they'd better rush the child to the ER to get the stomach pumped. Luckily no serious harm was done. In each of these cases, they generally kept the poisonous substance in a very safe place but some odd thing had happened to make it accessible to the child. They felt horrible about the incident and were all the more vigilent after the accident, I'm sure. But is it really possible to keep every possible dangerous thing tucked away 100% of the time - especially when you have other children around who might not be as vigilent as you'd like? (i.e. the chemistry set).
I know of a mom whose 2-year-old died in the swimming pool in their backyard - while she thought her toddler was taking a nap and she was doing laundry, he snuck out of bed (the baby monitor didn't alert her - he was so quiet ), got out of the back door (which had an alarm that somehow didn't work and with the dryer running, she didn't hear the door open) and through the pool gate (which hadn't latched correctly) and fell through the pool cover (which had just one small tear in it that he happened to fall next to). By the time she realized he wasn't in his bed, it was too late. Could she have prevented this accident? Some would say they shouldn't have had a pool in their backyard. But they lived in a very hot place and that pool had been a source of great joy and exercise for their family for years. Should the tiny chance that a drowning could happen have prevented them from purchasing a home with a pool? The chances of great excercise and family fun seemed to greatly outweigh the risks. 
Bad things happen. But when we take away too many good and positive but potentially risky experiences from our children because of the small chance of something bad happening, we aren't really serving them well. 
I'm all for preventing tragedies if that were indeed possible. We all should be careful and smart about what we have in our homes and the supervision we give our kids. But we should also be careful and smart about not over-protecting our children and preventing them from having important childhood experiences. There's only so much we can do to keep them safe - and if we put keeping them safe ahead of helping them learn and grow, that's a problem. 
I'm OK with the 1% chance that my child might be hurt and the probably .00001% chance my child might be seriously injured or kidnapped or even killed doing something like skiing or walking to their friend's house down the block or climbing a tree because there's like a 99% chance they'll learn and grow and have fun through that experience.  
I thought this writer put it well:
"Today’s most-lamented style of childcare isn’t lax parenting; it’s helicopter parenting. Overparenting is the order of the day: too much fear and not enough risk, too much supervision and not enough independence, too much Purell and not enough germs. We ban swings on playgroundschapstick,sunscreen. We’re socialized to see danger in the most innocuous places...What we don’t really need is a reminder that gut-wrenching accidents happen every day. Everyone already knows that. "
 by Jessica Goldstein on the blog Think Progress

I think life is about more than simply preserving life. It's about learning and growing and having joy - even if that often involves some inherent risk.

5 comments:

charity said...

awesome thoughts, sar!

the ad is perplexing to me because it shows images of riding a bike, flying, sailing, riding a bus, climbing a tree -- all "risky" things that "cause" accidents. but the point of the commercial is to avoid accidents?

Pam said...

AAAAMMMEEENNN!!! Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

MaurLo said...

I missed the ad and the discussion, but thank you for saying something sane in response!

Clifford Wheeler said...

That is true. Those legal safety nets we have are really for the children, to make the future safe for them and amenable to their environments, whether it's for accidents or other hazards. So yes, they shouldn't be something to be feared, but rather to be understood and embraced. Thanks for sharing that! All the best!

Clifford Wheeler @ PSP Law

Camile said...

Wonderfully put!
I would really love to know your perspective on sleepovers with this in mind. (or if you know of any good articles, forums, etc). I am on the fence with sleepovers right now. It seems like I either hear extreme free-range parenting views or extreme helicopter parenting views on this topic. I would really love to know what you think about it.

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