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Child Safety: Hype or Help?

The child safety industry is booming.  Activities that were once deemed safe for children are now deemed unsafe; safety measures are then implemented to protect children from the hazards identified.  Are all these increased safety measures hype or help?

As recently as the 1960′s, children rode in cars that didn’t have seatbelts because seatbelts were not standard equipment in the auto industry.  Today, it’s unthinkable for a child to ride without a seatbelt in an automobile.  Many states actually require seatbelt usage.  Fatalities from automobile accidents continue to decline as automobiles are made safer, year after year.  While it may have seemed safe and commonplace to ride without a seatbelt when we were children, and clearly we survived to talk about it today, many others were not as lucky as we have been, and the increased auto safety measures such as seatbelts have significantly reduced automobile-related fatalities.   Increased automobile safety measures such as seatbelts are then help.

Early in 2012, there was a small media storm covering safety statistics regarding children who use sippy cups.  Most of the injuries aggregated in these statistics were fall-related (i.e., the child was walking and drinking simultaneous, the child fell, and injuries resulted).  These injuries cannot reasonably be blamed on the sippy cup.  In proper condition, a sippy cup does not have sharp edges or projections.  Instead, the injuries should be blamed on children’s difficulties with multitasking: children may be able to walk well and drink well, but they may not be able to execute well the walking-while-drinking maneuver.   Thus, the safety hazard in this circumstance is not the item but the behavior.  Creating a safety concern about the sippy cup is hype.

In sum, safety statistics are help as long as they are analyzed correctly as to causation.   As parents, we must acknowledge that media (which is our primary source for safety statistics) represents a variety of positions, not all of which can be correct.  It is our job to assess each position and evaluate each based on potential accuracy.

Then, we must decide if the increased safety generated by the recommended safety measures is significant or insignificant.  For example, if a given safety measure costs a family $2,500.00 but reduces a child’s risk of injury by only 1%, is that $2,500 a reasonable expense?  Each family will need to decide this relative to their own unique circumstances, in consideration of their family’s exposure to the identified risk, how severe the injury may be if the worst case scenario manifests itself, the family’s budget, etc.  Therefore, what may be help to one family because of its high risk exposure may be hype to another family because of it’s low risk exposure.

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