'Perfect safety' is the enemy of good enough
Balls and cartwheels are banned at recess and many schools are decreasing or eliminating free play.
Surveys show that car seats have become so complicated that many parents and caregivers don't use them at all.
When it comes to children's safety, it seems we've reached the point of diminishing returns as the quest for perfect results has become the enemy of good-enough regulations.
Many schools have banned tag and dodge ball, and others have reduced recess or eliminated it. At the Long Island middle school where balls were banned, the school superintendent explained, “we want to make sure our children have fun but are also protected.”
The result, sadly, is hurting kids, and especially boys, argues Christina Hoff Sommers.
“Girls benefit from recess — but boys require it,” she writes. “Boys playing tag, tug-of-war, dodge ball or kickball together ... are not only having a great deal of fun, they are forging friendships ... in ways that are critical to their healthy socialization.”
It also helps boys (and girls) focus in the classroom if they also have play periods. Keeping kids “perfectly safe” from balls and tag might just harm them as much as — more than? — any playground injury.
The Fatality Analysis Reporting System reported in 2000 that “child safety seats reduced fatal injury by 71 percent for infants ... and by 54 percent for toddlers.” Recently however, states have tried to “improve” the regulations. The requirements for babies were extended and in many states kids now “graduate” out of car seats and boosters older and heavier.
Here's the trouble: Compliance has gotten much more difficult and expensive, and it might not make a difference.
Surveys already show low car seat compliance among parents and caregivers. Car seats are often improperly installed or there's no car seat at all.
As the NHTSA reported in 2011, “more than a third of children under age 13 who died in passenger vehicle crashes were not in car seats or wearing seat belts.” If some of those car-seat-less kids had just been strapped into the seat belt, isn't it possible a life might have been saved? The child might still have been injured but at least survived the crash.
Regulators don't like good enough though, so instead we get commitments like this: “Child passenger safety laws ... are proven to protect young lives. We encourage states to strengthen and enforce these laws to help keep more of our young people safe,” said Dr. Linda Degutis, director of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.
True. But you have to follow the rules first.
Abby W. Schachter lives in Regent Square and blogs about the intersection of government policy and parenting at captainmommy.com.