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In his highly acclaimed new book entitled, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make A Big Difference, Malcolm Gladwell describes how major societal changes often happen suddenly and unexpectedly.1 Three rules of epidemics—the law of the few, the stickiness factor, and the power of context—interact to create social change. Social epidemics, when they create critical mass, result in the “tipping point”.
There appears to be early signs of an antichild safety mentality emerging in the popular press. After years as a virtually sacrosanct “motherhood and apple pie” issue, safety is now being ridiculed by a handful of reporters (law of the few) as overzealous and even misleading. A few examples published in the United States media illustrate my thesis.
In the Washington Post Magazine, Marc Fisher makes fun of airbag warnings, safety precautions uttered at a gymnastics birthday party, and the babyproofing industry.2 He claims that “...life is risky. Only rabid arrogance and unchecked ego permit folks to believe that they can eliminate risk—and this is the key to understanding the safety obsession. It's all about control. By focusing on small dangers, we fool ourselves into believing we can make our lives secure”.
In a Time Magazine article, Robert Wright lambasts widespread media attention to school shootings, law enforcement's fingerprinting and abduction prevention programs, and the items in a child safety product catalog.3 He contends that, “The war on risk has scored many successes, and I don't want to be ungrateful. But as more time, effort and money go into the crusade, bringing increasingly marginal gains you have to start wondering: Is all this safety worth the fear it brings?”
Even child passenger safety has its critics. In a Washington Post Magazine essay, Liza Mundy rails against car seats stating, “The first time I purchased a front-facing car seat for my daughter, I tried to stuff her down through the `five-point' straps before I figured out that first you have to unhook them—a cardinal rule of car seat design being that every car seat must work differently from all other car seats and that every three years, moreover, all safety requirements must be rewritten such that all car seats sold before that date are declared not just unsafe but potentially lethal ... No wonder parents hate them”.4
In Parenting Magazine, Josh Lerman parodies the safety field in his description of the “Babypruf (sic) Bomb”.5 He writes, “Why protect your baby from just a few hazards when you can protect him from everything? Place the canister in the middle of any room, press the button, and get out of there! Within an hour, the wide-dispersal nozzle will coat every surface in the room with two centimetres of soft, cushiony eva foam”.
This theme is echoed in a short story by Julia Slavin in which a family hires the services of Baby Safe to create a safer house after the mother has recurrent disaster dreams.6 For the sake of efficiency, the babyproofer and mother agree to exile the father, “Just until the house is done, Walter. It won't be for long”. Upon returning home, the father describes the scene, “I look around our house, which is empty except for a few large soft toys. The windows are now continuations of the walls, the fire place is boarded up, the furniture is gone ... I'm sure there's no bed for the baby to fall off, no shower or bath for the baby to drown in ... The three of us sit on the cushy floor, covered with Mitzy Baker's foam padding”.
All this cynicism may stem from the proliferation of safety books and articles in parenting magazines, as well as to the $500 million dollar sales of child safety products annually.7 Could these writings constitute the beginnings of an antichild safety tipping point? Will the tide of public opinion continue to turn against our efforts to protect children from their number one killer? I certainly hope not. The injury field must unite and stand strong against this potential safety backlash promulgated by the media. Only time—and perhaps Malcolm Gladwell—will tell.
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