Judging by the amount of media output (aka hype) about the perils of the world
our children live in, it does seem amazing that any of us adults survived our own childhood.
I just received a glossy, multi-color, four-page brochure from a leading children’s hospital’s “Injury Prevention Program” listing a whole host of “Fall and winter safety tips for kids”. It provoked some vivid memories of the “dangerous days” of my youth.
Here are some of the “tips” followed by an editorial comment based on my own childhood experiences.
1. “Children should NEVER push or roughhouse while on jungle gyms, slides, seesaws, swings, or other equipment.”
HELLO ?. If you can’t do that how can you determine who is “King of the Mountain”?
2. “Always slide feet first, don’t climb outside guard rails, and don’t stand on swings.”
Sliding head first was much faster, and after three sit-down slides, much less boring.
Billy Almy won the competition for the highest swing only because he was the tallest kid in the class when he stood up. It was certainly not because he was the best leg pumper! No way! Dick Perles was.
And how else could you practice for the rope climb in gym class except on the long, high leg of the tall slide?
3. “Remove all drawstrings from children’s clothing before they enter the playground. Other loose objects like necklaces should also be removed.”
I had no idea then that my hoodie was so dangerous. Without that hoodie drawstring what would I chew on while anxiously watching Billy Almy trying to beat my swing height? Of course, today’s hoodies are considered a real danger in another way.
4. “There should be only one child on a playground device at a time. More than one child increases their risk of injury.”
See number 1 above, not to mention the seesaw where you could give the other kid a really good rump bump by quickly jumping off your side.
5. “Never let children trick-or-treat alone. Have them walk in groups with a trusted adult.”
We used to go out alone the night before Halloween, “mischief night”, to throw our toilet paper rolls, soap windows, and tip over garbage cans. As we parents grew older with our good neighbor friends, it became increasingly harder to find a “trusted adult”; one that didn’t mooch a shot of scotch at every other house.
6. “Wear well fitted masks, costumes and shoes to avoid blocked vision or trips and falls.”
I guess that rules out any ET or clown costumes.
7. “During Christmas avoid sharp or fragile decorations for small children”
We always put the star on the top of the tree. Didn’t you?
8, “Avoid toys with pull strings longer than 12 inches and toys that have to be plugged into an electric outlet. Battery operated gifts are less likely to cause burns or electric shocks.”
Strangulation hazard x 2, I guess. BUT, they don’t mention those little lithium batteries that are so easy to swallow and can cause stomach lining burns. Good thing my parents didn’t have to worry about those when I was a kid.
9.“Use sleds you can steer. Always sit up with feet forward – lying flat increases the chance of head and abdominal injuries.”
Oh, now that they’re off the slide you want the kids to lie down! These rules that change with the season could be very confusing to an average kid. As I remember, our toboggans seemed to go willy-nilly where ever they wanted to go. That’s what made them so much fun.
10. “Melting or falling ice or snow can be dangerous for children. Avoid the sides of buildings or structures.”
Oh again, NOW it is safer to walk in the middle of the road!
11. “Children should only skate on public indoor or outdoor rinks.”
Where do we build the fire for the marshmallows?
12. “Cycling should be restricted to off-roads (sidewalks and paths) until age 10.”
Oh, now that the ice has cleared we can go back out into the street… if we are 10 or over.
True that “it’s a sad fact that injury is the number one cause of death and disability among children in the United States”, but the good news is that a whole lot of children are no longer dying from streptococcal infections, whooping cough, pneumonia, measles, congenital heart diseases, croup, etc.
When you look at the actual causes of death by injury to children you get a different impression. “Motor vehicle traffic” accidents is the number one injury killer of children up until the age of 15. At 15 years “suicide” and “homicide by firearms” makes its appearance in competition for 2nd and 3rd billing. As one parent told me, “My seven year old kid is smart and careful enough to walk the four blocks to school, but I walk with him. Not because I fear that he will be abducted, but because I fear that some driver talking on a cell phone or texting or adjusting his radio will inadvertently run him down.”
In the 0-4 year old age group “drowning” and “unintentional suffocation” trump “motor vehicle traffic”. That statistic is the basis of the quote that “under the age of 14 a child is four times as likely to drown than to die from a gun shot”, so pool safety (fences, direct visual adult supervision, and early swimming lessons) is key for protection of children.
One result of this well-intentioned brochure highlighting the dangers of schoolyard and playgrounds may be to just increase parental anxiety about local neighborhoods and fear of things that normal kids do. I think that is unfortunate. Efforts to push safety around pools and other bodies of water, to reduce the number of guns in homes, and to increase the safe keeping of guns that are in homes are better directed ones.