Monday, July 9, 2012

The more things change...

Ours was all white, but it did have that cool pop top...
When I was a child, cars did not mostly have seatbelts. The VW camper we drove in the 60s and 70s had lap belts in the front seat, and that was it - shoulder belts were unheard of then, and lap belts were far from standard. What's more, there was no such thing as carseats for infants, much less toddlers and older children. My mother had a car bed that just laid on the back seat for my brothers and I when we were babies.

Look, Ma, no seatbelts!
That's unthinkable now. Imagine if you told someone you just laid your baby on the back seat for car trips. At best, they would be horrified. At worst, they'd have you arrested for child endangerment. Yet it was typical 50 years ago. When I had Rapunzel, you had to have a properly installed carseat to talk your baby home from the hospital. You had to use one until your child was 5 years old or weighed 40 lbs, whichever came first. By the time I had The Nerd 3 years later, it was 8 years or 80 lbs, which I thought was taking it a bit far. I remember the day she turned 8 and we ceremoniously removed the booster seat - she'd been waiting for that day a long time. Now, a pregnant coworker tells me it's 12 years (or presumably some higher weight). Let that sink in: The Nerd is 12, and just finished 7th grade. Kids typically turn 12 in late 6th grade or early 7th grade. So the law now requires middle schoolers to ride in booster seats. Seriously? Even a year ago, at 11, The Nerd was taller than and outweighed both her grandmothers, and no one thinks they need to be in a booster seat.

This sort of obsession with child safety is, on the one hand, laudable, and on the other, going to ridiculous extremes. And what is unthinkable is changing, it seems, at an ever-faster pace. When Rapunzel was born, I would not have dreamed of using the crib my mother used for my brothers and me - the bars were too far apart and a safety hazard (little heads could get caught - Mom claims we all had really big heads, so it was fine...). I felt very superior that I knew better. But the crib Rapunzel and The Nerd slept in? Is now deemed unsafe because it has drop sides, and one day, both of them will refuse in horror to use it because "everyone knows those are not safe!"

I wonder what else I did as a parent when the girls were young that they will gasp in horror at when they have children. Like I did when my mother-in-law told me that when her sons were babies, baby formula was a make-it-yourself affair consisting of condensed milk and karo syrup.

It's not that I don't feel protective of the girls - I do - but at what point does taking reasonable precautions cross over into compulsive overprotectiveness? It makes sense to legislate safety protections for things that kill thousands of children and can be avoided through reasonable precautions (say, carseats for babies or booster seats for kids too short to safely use a shoulder belt). But no carseat is going to change the fact that driving is a risky activity. Thousands of adults are killed in car wrecks every year, even with seat belts and air bags and antilock brakes... So at some point, reasonableness has to take over. I would argue that keeping kids in booster seats until they're 12 crosses that line. Likewise, convenience must be weighed (and don't tell me it doesn't - if we weren't weighing in convenience, no one would drive. We'd still be using the horse and buggy.)

A deathtrap, if you believe the CPSC.
And take that now-verboten drop sided crib - how big are the risks, really? The Consumer Product Safety Commission, which banned them, says 30 to 45 children have been killed because of them in the last DECADE. That's 3-4 deaths a year. Out of how many millions using them? The most recent Census says there are more than 20 million children under 5 in the United States. If you figure they're pretty evenly distributed, that's 8 million kids under 2 probably sleeping in a crib. So, an annual risk of about 5 in 10 million, or 5E-7. For comparison, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers risks 20 times higher (1 in 100,000) to be acceptable. Yet in banning them, the CPSC characterized drop-sided cribs as "deadly." Really?

I've said it before, and will say it again: you can't eliminate risk from life. We weigh risks against many other factors every single day, even if it's not conscious.

Still, I might as well take the crib the girls slept in to the dump - I doubt they will ever be willing to use it. And I'll steel myself for the inevitable "you did WHAT?"s that I will surely hear when they have kids and I start saying "when you were a baby, we...."

The more things change....


  1. This is awesome. For the record, I won't be keeping my kids in a booster seat until they're 12 (by the time I'm having kids it'll probably be 16!) That's just ridiculous (unless it's required by law, in which case it's ridiculous but I'll HAVE to do it!)
    I get overwhelmed with all the safety "rules" that go along with having a baby...sometimes I wonder how we ever survived to adulthood! I think they're going to extremes and I would totally use your death trap crib, were I close enough to use it :)

  2. Lol, Megg- maybe I'll have to ship you the deathtrap crib! As for booster seats, it IS the law, at least in NC - it varies by state. Eventually, they'll go straight from booster seat to driving.....

  3. Oh dear.
    I am a car-seat tech, and feel the need to set the record straight on a couple of points.
    Boosters are not required to age 12. Anyone that says so, has been misinformed.
    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (those poeple--those scientists-- that do test after test of seat/dummies/cars to make your children safer, and establish the standards the states should follow--but often dont--not quite) NHTSA recommends children remain in belt-positioning boosters until the height of 4'9", which is usually reached at around age 8, as the is the height children will safely fit in the vehicle belt of MOST vehicles (there are always exceptions) Weight is virtually irrelevant--it is mainly a height thing. If your child is not tall enough to fit the vehicles seat belts correctly, then a booster is used. (lap belt should cross at the hips--not tummy, and should strap should be on the bony part of the shoulder--not up the neck, or down the arm)
    It's not a big brother's a safety thing. We know more more about how bodies move in a crash, we know more about how trauma affects the body now...than we did whatever number of years ago. It is knowledge learned about the safety of children in vehicles. Pure and simple.

  4. There is a wonderful saying... "when you know better, you DO better" We know that keeping children in things like booster seats until they are older keeps them safer. It's not a matter of what is "cool" it's what is best. Seat belts are made for adult MEN... very few children are 6 foot tall... and because of this, the belt fit is TERRIBLE. Even at low impact crashes an improper seat belt fit does amazing damage to a child... the belt rides up on their soft tummy crushing their internal organs and spine... if they are lucky enough to survive the trauma, there is a good chance they will be paralyzed (and this is at LOW impact crashes going 30 mph, not the type where no one walks away unharmed) Children need to be boosted so the adult belt fits them... no matter what age they are... they might be 8... but it might take some small children until they are 12 years old to be safe. It's not being over protective... it's being SMART and putting your child's safety first (not their popularity)

  5. Only 3 to 4 children have been killed by those cribs...what if one of those children were yours?
    Amy's quote is perfect...the more we learn and know, the better we do.
    Driving is risky,so why nit Jeep our kids as safe as possible. Many people die in crashes while wearing seatbelts but many more would die if they weren't wearing seatbelts. My uncle became a quadrapalegic because of not wearing a sestbelt. Anyway, that is not your point, I know.
    I guess I figure I wouldn't put my kids on a rollercoaster without proper restraints so why would I put them in a car without proper restraints?