You know, maybe we should take a break from our favorite pastime. Maybe we should not always “think of the children!” Maybe we’ve been thinking too hard, too often and too irrationally when it comes to their safety and wellbeing. Maybe they’d be better off with a little less of our obsessing.
Allow me to present two opposite sides of this argument. On the one hand, we have Illinois, where the state officials have been tripping over themselves to show just how much they care about kids and how endangered they think they are.
There we have the comptroller, Judy Baar Topinka, and state Rep. Jack Franks and state Sen. Tim Bivins joining forces with local law enforcement leaders to float the idea that it is time to stop making schools polling places for voting citizens.
“I just know in my heart of hearts that if we continue to allow this, someday we are going to have a version of Sandy Hook,” said Topinka.
Really? A type of tragedy that has occurred so infrequently in American history that we all can remember each horrific incident — that’s something she is certain is going to happen again? In Illinois? Because of voters in the schools?
“We can probably predict with certainty that at some point in time, we will have another Sandy Hook,” Bivins asserted. Ah, the old prediction with probable certainty! They don’t call ‘em politicians for nothing. Bivins continued, “We don’t like to think about that.” (Are you kidding? Politicians love to think about kids in danger. Gives them instant stature and votes.) “But we need to be prepared, and I think this bill is a good start.”
Yes, it’s always wise to start by outlawing an activity that never has posed a threat. But that’s exactly what politicians have been trained to do. Worse, so has our entire culture. The drill is: Look at an object, and imagine how it could, in some bizarre instances, just possibly harm someone (especially an innocent child) — and then act as if that threat were imminent.
That’s how you end up with things such as labels on strollers that say, “Remove baby before folding.” Some company lawyer had to look at the stroller exactly the same way some trial lawyer could look at it. (“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the stroller did not warn my client of the risks of folding the baby inside.”) And then the company goes on to warn the public about an exceedingly unlikely danger. Or maybe the stroller simply gets outlawed. This happens with products, and it happens with anything having to do with play.
Which brings us to the other side of the coin: a new edict by Britain’s Health and Safety Executive saying it’s time to stop always imagining the worst-case scenario and using that as the basis for laws. The straightforward edict told everyone from policymakers down to playground designers to ditch the “misguided security blanket” of policies and paperwork excessively dedicated to eradicating every last wisp of risk from children’s play.
In an era that has seen schools and parks ban everything from tag to teeter-totters on the very off chance that some child could get seriously injured, the statement said assessments should focus on “the real risk, not the trivial and fanciful.” Moreover, it begged bureaucrats to understand that looking at play solely through the lens of risk and liability has meant losing sight of the fact that mostly, playing at the park is good for kids.
Look through the lens of risk and kids can’t play on the playgrounds and voters can’t vote in the schools. Two proud traditions threatened by delusions of danger and thinking too ridiculously about the children.
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.”