Parents: Be very, very, very afraid of everything that exists on earth that is not the size of a trampoline. (And then be very scared of THEM. And bouncy houses! Don’t forget to be scared of them, too!) Anything smaller could pose a choking hazard.
Take, for example, the Stride Rite shoe called the Joanna sandal. It’s a kiddie sandal decorated with a metal flower about the diameter of a checker. The Consumer Product Safety Commission warns, “The firm has received six reports of the flowers detaching and eleven reports of flowers loosening.”
“No injuries have been reported.”
That’s right. A couple of decorations have detached from a shoe, and suddenly it is right up there with glass shards in applesauce: “Consumers should immediately take the recalled shoes away from children and contact Stride Rite to receive a prepaid envelope for the return of the shoes,” says the commish.
This is exactly the kind of safety charade that goes on every day. Stride Rite, hearing that its flowers can detach (as can almost anything if you pull hard enough), pretends to worry about this “danger.” My guess is that it’s actually worried about lawsuits. An official product recall heads those off at the pass: “You can’t sue us! We already warned you!”
Meantime, the CPSC pretends to regard the decoration with abject horror, as if no one there had ever seen anything that size — such as, say, a coin or the cap from a milk carton or an acorn.
This dance of fake danger has become so common that there are recalls almost weekly for things that are abundantly safe — for example, teddy bears with button eyes. After all, those could become detached.
“This is risk aversion to an unsustainable extreme,” says Ben Miller, a policy analyst at the common-sense-endorsing organization
Common Good. “What lesson should a company like Stride Right take from the recall? It’s impossible to manufacture a shoe — or, for that matter, any product — that’s completely incapable of causing any level of danger. A recall like this doesn’t promote safety so much as it promotes hiding behind a wall of lawyers and crossing your fingers that a product recall doesn’t put you out of business.”
He’s so right. Any product can, under some circumstances, turn lethal. That’s a fact we can’t seem to get a grip on without running to issue a new warning or law.
In turn, all those excess warnings make everyday life seem terribly dangerous. That’s one of the reasons for helicopter parenting. Parents are told that everything is out to kill their kids unless they (like our product recalls) are exceedingly, excessively vigilant.
We are scaring ourselves silly. It is silly to worry about the dangers of the flower on a sandal. But until we agree that a product must pose a real threat before we issue warnings or start to sue, we’ll just keep getting sillier.
Lenore Skenazy is the author of “Free-Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry)” and “Who’s the Blonde That Married What’s-His-Name? The Ultimate Tip-of-the-Tongue Test of Everything You Know You Know — But Can’t Remember Right Now.”