Children’s Lives Are More Than “Percentages”

It is an unfortunate truth that those who oppose efforts to protect children from known and preventable hazards often resort to sarcastic banter in an attempt to make their points, rather than focusing on facts.

It is one thing to oppose government regulation in certain (or even most) circumstances, and quite another to conjure up a child leaping from a plane and landing on a toy. For me, as well as parents of children who have been maimed or killed and countless other concerned citizens, holding accountable those who manufacture and sell defective playthings for our nation’s children is no laughing matter. Such inexcusable lack of concern for safety has caused scores of deaths and catastrophic injuries over the course of decades.

I find it remarkable that, in Ms. Skenazy’s view, speaking about individual children, or numbers of children, who have lost their lives as a result of a preventable hazard is not appropriate because it might “scare” people. Naturally, it is easier and more comfortable to discuss loss of life in terms of “percentages,” in much the same way many manufacturers attempt to justify placing a product into the streams of commerce that causes death or severe injury. The preventable losses of these children are marginalized, the data fed into a machine that spits out a percentage number which we are told represents an acceptable risk. Acceptable to whom? Certainly not to the parents who have to bury their child, or the child who has to live the remainder of his or her life with physical and often psychological damage. Certainly not to those of us who believe we can and must do better.

In my view, we as a society owe more to our kids than treating them like lab rats. It is not acceptable policy to allow manufacturers to sell defective products, monitor the death and injury rates, then see if the loss percentages are within an acceptable range. The focus must be on prevention, on proper design and testing in the first instance, so that tragedies can be avoided, rather than merely added into a cost/benefit analysis akin to number crunching at any financial institution.

We can agree that laws exist to make society reasonably safe. However, we have a long way to go when it comes to fulfilling this mission.

Also from this issue

Lead Essay

  • Lenore Skenazy argues that when it comes to children, we have gone too far in the pursuit of safety at all costs. This isn’t just a cultural phenomenon, either; it has serious implications for public policy, in the form of consumer product regulations and family and even criminal law. She suggests that it’s time to start learning to relax about children’s safety. In particular, allowing kids to take controlled risks is one of the ways that we introduce them to the real world, which is not and should not be risk-free.

Response Essays

  • Anthony Green argues that child safety is nothing to joke about. It is not an overreach to call the police if you see a child alone in a locked car; on the contrary, you should certainly do it. Real progress has been made in child safety in recent years, even as new threats emerge, including toppling television sets and poisoning among older children. The child protection community has done tremendous good, and safety enables fun rather than inhibiting it.

  • James A. Swartz argues that the multibillion dollar corporations that make children’s products have a responsibility to deliver them without any safety hazards. Recalls and labeling are not enough, and a close examination of many such cases reveals a disturbing trend: Corporations are often indifferent to children’s safety. We ought not to excuse or make light of such behavior.

  • Joel Best identifies two changing factors in American culture that have contributed to overblown fears related to children. The first is the mass media, which excels at spreading alarming stories, whether true or fictionalized. The second is the declining birthrate, coupled with increased safety itself: There are fewer children per family, and losing one is not an experience we suffer so often nowadays. As a result, smaller problems appear more alarming.