Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Children's cold medicine might kill your child. That news, which hit all the major media outlets last week, would have been more shocking if it didn't represent just the latest minefield parents must avoid in order to raise a healthy, productive kid.
If you believe the various books and magazines forced on all new parents, everything represents a possible danger for your child. Forget peanut allergies, the large variety of things your baby might choke on and the incredible risk you take if your car seat gets installed slightly askew, your newborn might not survive the night if you give them a blanket.
In addition to being blanketless, your baby must also sleep on his back. Stomach sleeping already frightened new moms and dads are told it might cause your kid to stop breathing and even a novice parent knows that, for most kids, breathing is essential.
Should you manage to beat the odds and keep your child from dying as a baby, the media and the baby products industry would have you believe things only get more complicated and more dangerous. Today's toddler, one would have to assume, faces a series of perils that would make a Navy SEAL cry for his mommy.
When I was born 34 years ago my parents pretty much used their own judgment as to what might kill me. They kept me away from the rat poison, put gates in front of the stairs and were usually successful at keeping me from falling off the changing table.
We slept on our bellies under piles of blankets in cribs with bars spaced far enough apart that if we were particularly dumb our heads might get caught. I rode in the front seat of the car and the back of the station wagon. As I got older I rode a bike without a helmet, ate foods that contained trans fats and walked to school without an armed guard.
Whereas most of us older folks were lucky if our parents put those little plastic things over the outlets, the modern child's home must include an array of safety products designed to protect them from every imaginable danger. Catalogues actually exist offering everything from padding to cover the sharp edges on tables to every manner of device conceivable to keep doors, cabinets and other storage spaces closed.
In addition to the steps taken in our homes, we also outfit our kids in safety equipment for pretty much every activity. The days of riding a skateboard without elbow and knee pads have long since past and a parent who lets his child ride a bike down a quiet street without a helmet would be viewed in pretty much the same way as a parent who buys his youngster cigarettes. Judging by the precautions parents must take today, one must assume that either the world has gotten more dangerous or our children have gotten softer and dumber.
In reality, of course, today's children face little more danger than I did as a kid. Today's parent, however, myself included, wants so desperately to protect our child from even the mildest hardship that we have become unable to use common sense or distinguish between taking reasonable precautions and being insanely over-protective.
This fear of allowing our children to face danger has made all parents vulnerable to every manner of media hysteria. We're all so paranoid that we eagerly gobble up stories about the newest threats to our kids' well-being and are happy to spend money to insulate them from those dangers.
So, if my son gets a cold, we're not giving him any cold medicine. Fortunately, he won't get a cold, because if we let him play outside he's wearing so many layers and pieces of protective gear that he's more likely to get heat stroke than the sniffles.
Daniel B. Kline's new book, "Easy Answers to Every Problem," can be ordered at amazon.com. Daniel B. Kline can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.